Scams and shams — December 2015

Two FC Barcelona players are accused of tax evasion, while a man convicted of wire fraud and embezzlement hides in plain sight on the Appalachian Trail.


Footballers allegedly ran afoul of taxman

Two FC Barcelona players are accused of tax evasion as part of the Spanish government’s crackdown on high-profile tax cheats. Four-time FIFA world player of the year Lionel Messi is facing trial on charges that he avoided €4.1 million ($5.7 million) in taxes on advertising contracts between 2007 and 2009 by using offshore companies. If convicted, he could spend up to 22 months in prison. Teammate Javier Mascherano is charged with two counts of tax fraud totalling €1.5 million for trying to hide income he earned on his image rights. He has already repaid the back-taxes and nearly €200,000 in interest.


Mountain Man was really on-the-lam accountant

Picture of James Hammes 

When James Hammes, a 53-year-old Kentucky accountant, was confronted by his employer G&J Pepsi-Cola bottlers about US$8.7 million in missing funds in 2009, he promptly disappeared. Turns out he was hiding in plain sight on the Appalachian Trail, where for six years he took on the identity of friendly hiker “Bismarck.” The FBI caught up with him earlier this fall at a small Virginia inn touted as a place to “forget life’s stresses” after another hiker saw him featured on an episode of TV show American Greed. Hammes pleaded guilty to wire fraud and embezzlement and is awaiting sentencing.


TV terror analyst not CIA

Wayne Simmons, a guest intelligence expert on US cable channel Fox News who claimed he worked at the US Central Intelligence Agency from 1973 to 2000, has been arrested for making false statements, major fraud against the US and wire fraud. Simmons used the false CIA claim to try to get security clearances and work as a defence contractor — he was once even deployed overseas as an intelligence adviser to senior military personnel. If convicted, Simmons faces up to 35 years in prison on all charges.


Bitcoin bank was a con

Bitcoin has marked an unfortunate milestone, with what officials say is the first US criminal securities fraud related to the cryptocurrency. Trendon Shavers of Texas guaranteed investors a daily gain of 1% on their deposits into his Bitcoin Savings and Trust, and they entrusted him with US$4.5 million in bitcoins between 2011 and 2012. But the operation was a Ponzi scheme; he used new deposits to pay back old investors. Shavers pleaded guilty to the fraud and is awaiting sentencing.


419 scam in the 416

A Nigerian foreign national in Toronto has been sentenced to 12.5 years in US prison for stealing US$13 million in a massive international email fraud scheme from 2008 to 2013. Alex Sualim used a typical advanced-fee con, recruiting would-be US victims to act as the US distributor for a fake product and company, then asking them to pony up funds to make the deal happen. While such schemes are not new, most perpetrators live in obscurity overseas, not in a multimillion-dollar Toronto waterfront home with a fleet of luxury cars, as did Sualim.