- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 23, 2014

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - A former developer was sentenced to 20 years in prison Tuesday for fraudulently obtaining tax credits and then plotting to flee the country while he was supposed to be liquidating assets to raise money to repay his victims.

Billy Gene Jefferson was awaiting sentencing for the $12 million tax credit scheme when he engaged in a “breathtaking campaign” of obstruction, prosecutor Michael Gill said. The scheme included hoarding cash - perhaps by stashing it in a homemade vault - and using a fake ID to charter a one-way flight to England that he ultimately backed out of, Gill said.

Jefferson was free on bail and supposedly cooperating with authorities, the prosecutor said.

U.S. District Judge John A. Gibney noted that Jefferson had no prior criminal record and had donated more than $1 million to charity, but he was clearly perturbed.

“What we have with Mr. Jefferson is millions of dollars that have simply gone to the wrong place,” Gibney said. “Respect for the law is absolutely absent here.”

Jefferson, 52, apologized to the state and federal governments, and investor Chevron. He became emotional when noting that he will miss important moments in the lives of his three young children.

“That really is my eternal shame,” a tearful Jefferson said.

Prosecutors asked for a sentence of 30 years, citing the egregious nature of Jefferson’s actions.

According to previous testimony, while Jefferson was awaiting his first sentencing date for the tax credit fraud, he transferred $2.1 million to a “cage account” at a Las Vegas casino and drew on that account during three visits. He claims he lost all the money gambling. Federal authorities believe he walked away with at least $1.8 million.

Jefferson, who was required as part of his plea agreement to report any real estate or money transfer of more than $25,000, also structured at least 30 transactions at or just below that limit. Gibney said Jefferson’s assertion that he used those big withdrawals to pay normal household expenses was “insane.”

Authorities found evidence that Jefferson looked into how to build a safe out of PVC pipe and believe that’s how he might have hidden millions of dollars that he can retrieve to resume a lavish lifestyle after his release from prison. Jefferson’s attorneys have denied that and said he has already turned over nearly $2 million.

Defense attorney Charles James recommended a sentence of 12 years, saying a 30-year term for a white-collar offense would be “grossly inflated.”

Gibney said he was troubled that Jefferson continued to pursue the illegal scheme, which involved inflating renovation expenses on historic properties to qualify for bigger tax credits, even after another Richmond developer was sentenced to 16 years in prison for a similar scam.

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