In the two weeks since the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office took the first complaint and allegation of fraud against Bob Newsholme, the long-time owner of Flagler Tax Services, the Sheriff’s Office has documented the cases of 57 individuals who claim they have been defrauded. The agency expects the numbers will grow. Newsholme had thousands of clients over the years.
According to the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, Newsholme, 66, shot himself in what appears to be a suicide attempt when he was home, after having two cigarettes and coffee with his wife Linda by the pool early the morning of Aug. 24 and leaving her with the impression that he was going to work at his well-known stand-alone store-front office in the Bunnell Business Center, across the parking lot from the Chicken Pantry.
Instead, he went to his bedroom, shot himself in the chest, and hoped he would die. He didn’t. He remained in bed for 12 hours, deteriorating enough that his wife, after she thought he’d just taken ill, asked her 23-year-old son Thomas to see what his trouble was, since he was having difficulties breathing. Newsholme told his son he’d shot himself. Deputies and paramedics were called in. He was transported to Halifax hospital, where he remained this week in stable condition.
His attempted suicide appears to be tied to what the Sheriff’s Office very quickly learned once news of the shooting circulated: Newsholme owed many people a lot of money. Based on report after report to the Sheriff’s Office, he had defrauded them in various schemes. Many cases follow the same pattern. Some exploited a twist or two. But the schemes, while versatile, appear clumsy, hurried and ultimately impossible to hide as clients were bound to be contacted by the IRS, even as he attempted to block those contacts in a separate set of arrangements. Newsholme seemed to have boxed himself in a Ponzi scheme of his own making, hoping to stay ahead of the inevitable reckoning by enlarging his circle of fraud. But as it began to unravel, it unraveled very quickly.
In one case, a man had heard Newsholme’s recurring radio commercial on WNZF advertising his tax services. The man contacted Newsholme in April and turned over his tax documents for completion. Within days, Newsholme told the man he owed the IRS $2,572. The man figured he would write the check to the IRS directly. Newsholme insisted that he be given the money instead. The man went along, giving Newsholme his American Express card’s number in early May.
The man thought the bill had been paid. On July 5, he got a letter from the IRS informing him he’d not paid his taxes. Newsholme claimed he’d sent in the money and blamed Covid, saying the IRS was backlogged. It was all a lie.
Another alleged victim told the Sheriff’s Office he recently discovered that his taxes had not been filed in 2019 and 2020. He’d paid Newsholme $62,500 over the years for his services, and what he thought he owed in federal taxes. He then discovered that none of the money owed the IRS had been submitted. He confronted Newsholme, who promised him he’d write him a check for $62,500. The check bounced. Linda Newsholme spoke to the man after the shooting and told him she’d “figure it out,” according to an incident report. The man wants to pursue criminal charges.
Newsholme, the Sheriff’s Office reported last week, was previously convicted of fraud schemes in New York. In 2018 Newsholme bought the shopping strip anchored by the Chicken Pantry, for $700,000, making him the landlord to every business there, including City of Bunnell offices. The just market value of the property has barely improved since, according to Property Appraiser records (from has $632,000 to $664,000), suggesting that if he had planned to sell the property, as he was seeking to (a Realtor’s sign is planted in the front yard), it would not have fetched more than he’d paid for it.
He and his wife over the years established numerous corporations or were named agents of corporations aside from their tax business, many of those companies for only a short time, including America’s Feel Good Company (with Frank Ricci, an immigration attorney and a business neighbor near the tax storefront), Tom Bob LLC, Stevens and Sons Home Improvements, with Scott Stevens of Bunnell, Tommatt and Associates, set up with Pycraft Legal Services of St. Augustine, Flagler Tax Credit Assist, Pirates Touchdown Club, Florida Retirement Consultants, Karen’s Closet Limited, and a few others.
Some of the companies were established on behalf of others, with Newsholme listed as an agent. Even then, it’s now emerging, problems arose.
In early July, a man had asked asked Newsholme to set up a corporation for him, which Newsholme did: RPS Divers LLC. The man and his wife paid Newsholme $1,300. The man then came down with Covid and had to be hospitalized. He was released in early September. When he called the bank to set up an account for his company, a bank official told him he was not allowed to do so: the company wasn’t registered in his name, but in Newsholme’s, and that the man’s wife’s name was not included in the registration documents. (A Division of Corporations document lists Newsholme as the treasurer of the company and Ashley Hull of Leesburg as the president. The incident report redacts the names of the complaining party.)
That incident report reveals another detail: About two weeks before Christmas, the same man and his wife were visiting Newsholme at his Bunnell office when Newsholme asked the man if he had a spare firearm. The man had one. He gave Newsholme a 9mm Ruger LC9. The man told the deputy that he was “not aware of Robert’s history and the pistol was left with Robert for his protection and per Robert’s request.” According to the original incident report on the self-inflicted gunshot wound, Newsholme had used a black Ruger LCP .380 caliber handgun, with a different serial number.
In another case, a woman reported to the Sheriff’s Office that Newsholme had been preparing her tax returns for seven years, and that she had a trusting, friendly relationship with him–a relationship close enough, she said, that Newsholme asked her for a $30,000 loan, to be repaid within seven months, with $5,000 in interest. The woman applied for a $40,000 equity loan against her house and turned over $30,000 to Newsholme on July 6. He wired the money to Prince Funding LLC in Lakewood, New Jersey, a company established only last December that operates as “Tawil Tax and Accounting Solutions,” a home business owned by Isaac Tawil.
Newsholme was required to make installment payments. He made the first by check on Aug. 13. The $5,071.42 check bounced. The woman has yet to receive a proper payment. Meanwhile, she continues to have to make her own payments on the equity loan. That was only one of the problems that emerged out of her business relationship with Newsholme. Separately, he had requested extensions on the last three years of her tax returns. But he’d been collecting $2,000 from her quarterly. The money was supposed to have been forwarded to the IRS. The IRS recently informed her that no payments had been received for 2018 and 2019.
The Sheriff’s Office, with an IRS agent in tow and Volusia County Sheriff’s Office deputies, raided Newsholme’s office with a search warrant in hand a week ago (Sept. 3), collecting a huge trove of documents, including documents belonging to people who may not have been victims. But unsuspecting clients of Newsholme have taken their own initiative.
In one case, a man who read the news reports–Newsholme had been preparing the man’s taxes for 15 years–contacted the IRS to verify whether his account was in good standing. It wasn’t. The IRS informed him he owed an estimated $8,091, possibly more. Some time back he’d received notice of a lien on his house, then the IRS letters stopped. He assumed Newsholme had taken care of the problem. He had not. There was more: Newsholme had helped him open a business. When the pandemic started, Newsholme told him there was a “tax freeze” (there wasn’t), and that the man should pay Newsholme in cash on the 20th of every month. The man did so, assuming the business taxes were getting transferred to the IRS. They were not. Newsholme has changed the man’s business address to a P.O. Box, effectively diverting all correspondence to himself, which is why the man never got the notices from the IRS, which had been trying to contact him for 13 months. The man invested a total of $40,000 with Newsholme, who would tell him again and again that the investment was “doing fine.”
The reports go on with numbing , repetitive reports of fraud, some for a few thousands dollars, some for a lot more. While there’s a pattern, the reports also reveal the various different ways Newsholme’s smokes and mirrors multiplied, as with those who already suspected something was very wrong, and who were pursuing Newsholme on their own for an accounting of their money. In one case, a client who’d received an IRS letter indicating taxes had not been paid confronted Newsholme only to be told the standard fabrication–that the IRS was behind due to Covid, and that Newsholme would take care of it. A few weeks later, Newsholme sent the client what appeared to be the picture of a check Newsholme had sent the IRS. But that, too, proved to be a fabrication.
Another common thread in the reports: the clients had all trusting, often affectionate relationships with Newsholme, never imagining he would defraud them, and at times not believing it even as evidence mounted that he appeared to have been doing exactly that. Many were reluctant to pursue him. Some still are.
There’s more bad news for those who may have been defrauded. An accountant’s mistakes, schemes, unwise investments or dishonesty are not indemnifying of a taxpayer’s responsibility to the IRS. “Most paid tax return preparers are professional, honest and trustworthy. However, the IRS is committed to investigating those who act improperly,” the federal agency states on its website. But that doesn’t mean the agency will take the fall for what a taxpayer owes.
“The IRS,” Findlaw, the legal information website, states, “doesn’t care if your accountant made a mistake. It’s your tax return, so it’s your responsibility. Even though you hired an accountant, you are liable to the IRS for any mistake. So, if the IRS adjusts your tax liability and say you owe more money, it’ll be you who has to pay, not your accountant.” The problems may even trigger an audit.
The most famous such case was that of Willie Nelson, the country singer, songwriter and all-around legend, who in 1990 was served a $32 million bill from the IRS, until then the largest ever bill of back-taxes and penalties served a single person. Nelson blamed his tax problems on his accountant, Price Waterhouse, which had invested his money in tax shelters the government disallowed and the IRS didn’t honor. Nelson’s attorney was able to negotiate the fee down to $6 million. Between his famous album, The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories?, designed to help him pay down his debt, various other works and an out-of-court settlement with Price Waterhouse, Nelson was debt-free in a matter of years.
The Newsholme case may turn out to be one of the largest and most complicated cases the Sheriff’s Office has handled in recent memory, raising questions about the agency’s capabilities to handle it on its own. (The IRS has its own law enforcement arm.) The Sheriff’s Office continues to ask any client of Flagler Tax Service who has received a notice of late filing from the IRS to contact the agency and make a formal report at 386-313-4911.