Like so many other exiles, Raul Sosa left Cuba with nothing for a new life in Miami.
With only an eighth-grade education and no English skills, the teen got into the rough-and-tumble tow-truck and scrap-metal business.
And over the decades, Sosa managed to do more than scrape by. He became an American success story — a “junkyard millionaire” — in Hialeah. His company, Accion 1 Auto Sales, raked in almost $29 million in revenues from 2004 to 2008.
But Sosa, 52, and wife Maura, 49, were hiding much of that income from the federal government by reporting only a fraction of their actual sales during the five-year period, authorities said.
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On Wednesday, the Sosas, convicted at trial of defrauding the Internal Revenue Service for failing to report at least $4.5 million in business profits, were sentenced to prison terms of 6 1/2 and 4 years, respectively. The couple, who formerly lived in Miami Springs, owe $1.5 million in federal income taxes.
With a prior criminal record, Raul Sosa was initially looking at a prison term of four to five years under federal sentencing guidelines.
But prosecutors urged U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore to imprison Raul Sosa beyond the guidelines — for 6 1/2 years. “This case is far from the defendant’s first brush with the law,” prosecutor Michael Davis wrote in a court filing this week, noting Sosa has 12 prior state convictions, including four felony offenses.
Indeed, the judge read off every one of his prior offenses in Miami federal court, noting that his criminal conduct began soon after his arrival during the Mariel boatlift from Cuba in 1980. Moore highlighted a 1995 case in which Sosa was charged with aggravated assault for pointing a gun at a Miami police officer. The judge sarcastically called Sosa “quite the model citizen” while mocking his defense attorney’s characterization of him as a charitable businessman.
But Sosa’s defense attorney, Rick Diaz, tried to downplay his client’s criminal history.
Diaz sought to portray Sosa in court papers as a victim of an “essentially mafia controlled” tow-truck and scrap-metal industry. He said Sosa’s principal business rival carried out a drive-by shooting of Sosa’s junkyard and “firebombed” his vehicles. He said several of Sosa’s arrests arising from those and other incidents in Miami were trumped up and resulted in little to no jail time.
Eventually, Sosa relocated his company from Miami to Hialeah, where Diaz said “corrupt” Miami-Dade auto-theft detectives “attempted to put [him] out of business.”
But in Hialeah, Sosa and his business found friendly territory.
At trial, his defense attorney called Hialeah Police Chief Sergio Velasquez as a character witness, who “recognized the extraordinary positive relations that Mr. Sosa enjoys with the city of Hialeah and its police department,” Diaz wrote in a court filing. For the couple’s sentencing, Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez’s chief of staff, Arnie Alonso, wrote a letter to the judge, calling the Sosas “respected members of our community.”
None of that mattered in the end because, as the judge said on Wednesday, the evidence showed the Sosas were “tax cheats.”
The Sosas opened Accion 1 Auto Sales in Hialeah in 2003. Their salvage and recycling business bought junked cars and stripped them. They sold the usable parts to businesses in the secondary auto parts market and the remaining metal as scrap to a local recycling business. Sometimes, they would resell whole cars without stripping them.
The jury found that the couple’s fraud scheme revolved around the “under reporting” of Accion 1’s annual sales on its federal income tax returns. And, in turn, the Sosas depressed the profits reported on the company’s returns, the income on their individual returns and their tax obligations.