A former Salem tax preparer and business owner was sentenced Wednesday to five years in prison in a scheme to collect nearly $900,000 in COVID relief funds and tax refunds, prosecutors announced.

Roosevelt Fernandez, 42, of 120 Bridge St., Salem, pleaded guilty to fraud and identity theft charges in January.

Fernandez, who owned Soluciones Multi Services, had worked for several years as a tax preparer. But prosecutors say that he began using the information from past customers to file state and federal tax returns and, during the pandemic, collect stimulus checks on their behalf without their knowledge.

The case came to light when some former customers attempted to file their income tax returns and discovered that someone had already filed them, prosecutors said last winter. That netted him more than $600,000.

Then, prosecutors say, Fernandez sought Economic Injury Disaster Loans, using false information about 10 different business entities he’d created, including Soluciones Multi Service, to obtain nearly $300,000 from the program.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Stearns sentenced Fernandez to 60 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release. Fernandez will also be required to pay $198,400 in restitution and forfeiture, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

In a pretrial filing, prosecutors said sentencing guidelines called for sentences of 51 to 63 months on two of the counts, followed by a mandatory minimum 24-month term on another count.

Fernandez and his lawyer had sought no more than four years in prison.

Fernandez had a prior conviction for similar conduct a decade ago.

In a sentencing memorandum, lawyer Scott Dullea said Fernandez resorted to his crimes out of frustration that as a convicted felon he was having difficulty finding work.

Dullea also argued that Fernandez’s crimes did not financially harm individuals, only the government.

Last month, Stearns denied a request for Fernandez to travel to the Dominican Republic prior to sentencing.

Fernandez wanted to visit his aging father one more time and make funeral arrangements.

But prosecutors opposed the request, noting that his father had lived in the United States until March.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis

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