A Payson businessman who represented himself as a tax expert and told his clients they didn't need to pay federal income taxes, was convicted of conspiracy to defraud the United States by a federal jury in Tucson Dec. 13.
Wayne C. Bentson operated his two businesses, Western Information Network and the Bentson Group in Payson until May 1997. A press release from the United States Attorney General's office in early December said Bentson falsely advised his clients that they did not need to pay federal income taxes.
Several of Bentson's clients testified at his trial that the advice he gave them compounded their tax problems and got them in trouble with the law. One witness, Payson contractor Tom Martell, said he went to prison because of Bentson's advice.
Martell spent five months in a Nevada prison for failing to file federal income taxes.
"(Bentson) told me there is no federal law that says you have to file a 10-44," Martell said. "I was gullible and I listened to his lies."
When the federal government found out Martell had not paid his taxes, Bentson said he would assist him in avoiding any consequences. Bentson told Martell that none of his clients ever lost against the federal government.
"I was paying him $500 a week for months to handle my situation with the Internal Revenue Service," Martell said. "He said the IRS never puts anyone in prison and he had never lost a case --but I was case No. 34 that he lost."
By 1995, Martell was facing federal charges.
"I wound up getting indicted by the federal government on three counts of failure to file," Martell said. "I was found guilty after a jury trial, was sentenced to five months in prison, followed by five months of house arrest, followed by five years probation."
Martell said Bentson scammed people across the nation, and witnesses who testified against him included a Scottsdale cardiologist and a firefighter from Idaho.
"It's my fault," Martell said. "I fell for it. Ignorance is no excuse."
Bentson also was convicted of not paying his own federal income taxes.
"According to the evidence at the trial, to conceal his own income from the IRS, Bentson instructed his clients to remit payments for his services in the form of cash or checks made out to third parties so that it could not be tracked," the press release said.
Bentson also maintained a bank account in the Cayman Islands and failed to file his 1995 and 1996 federal tax returns.
The federal jury determined that the combined tax loss to the government from Bentson's clients was more than $1 million.
Bentson now faces up to six years in prison and a fine of up to $350,000. He is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 28, 2005.
For Martell, the price of not paying his income taxes proved to be very high.
"Two days after I got out of prison, the IRS was at my door. They took my home and a piece of land I owned -- they took everything I had," Martell said. "And I still owe them $400,000."
Martell's advice: just pay your taxes.
"In the Bible, it says submit to all governing authorities for the glory of God," he said. "And that's what I am doing."