MIAMI (CBSMiami) — After pleading guilty, former Seminole tribe leader David Cypress was sentenced Thursday to 18 months in prison for filing a false tax return in 2007. Part of his plea deal: pay back nearly $5.5 million in overdue income taxes.
U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams handed down the sentence, which includes one year of supervised release after the 61-year-old’s prison term ends. Joel Hirschhorn, Cypress’ attorney, had suggested three years of probation and some community service.
According to court documents, from 1999 to 2010 the former leader of the tribe, which counts among its properties Seminole Casino Coconut Creek and Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, served as an elected representative of Big Cypress reservation to the governing Tribal Council of The Seminole Tribe of Florida
While serving as a Tribal Council representative, Cypress had the authority to authorize distributions to Tribal members, including to himself and to his family members.
Among these distributions, Cypress received $500,000 a year on top of the monthly dividend paid to all tribal members. According to Hirschhorn, the U.S. government also gave the tribe a 24-carat gold Schwinn bicycle.
Cypress admitted that during his role he authorized nearly $300,000 in taxable distributions to be paid to or for the benefit of himself and his family members.
This unreported income consisted of payments made to certain vendors for personal expenses paid on his behalf.
The vendors would submit vouchers requesting payment to The Seminole Tribe of Florida, which were coded to conceal the fact that Cypress was the beneficiary of the payments and falsely described the reason for payment.
Cypress authorized payment of these vouchers knowing the true basis of the request for payment, and that he was to be the beneficiary of the payment.
Correct copies of the vouchers were also provided by the vendors, then destroyed.
“Indian Tribal members are individually responsible for reporting and paying taxes on the benefits and payments received from their tribes. Willful failure to file accurate income tax returns can result in severe criminal consequences,” said José A. Gonzalez, Special Agent in Charge of IRS-Criminal Investigation Division, Miami Field Office.