Anthony Praino, 51, of Columbia, pleaded guilty Wednesday in U.S. District Court to interstate transportation of stolen property and filing a false tax return, according to David Rivera, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee.
The charges stemmed from a joint investigation conducted by the Maury County Sheriff’s Office, FBI and IRS-Criminal Investigation agents, which revealed in 2011 and 2012, Praino stole nearly $1 million worth of equipment from the General Motors Spring Hill plant and then failed to disclose to the IRS the $145,000 profit he received from the sale of the stolen equipment.
“Praino stole from his employer and cheated on his taxes in a manner that will always be addressed by the U.S. attorney’s office and its local, state and federal law enforcement partners,” said Rivera. “What was accomplished in this case illustrates the commitment of local and federal law enforcement agencies, working together to bring to justice those placed in a position of trust who choose to commit fraud at a significant cost to their employers and to the public.”
Testimony presented at the guilty plea hearing before District Judge Todd Campbell established that in 2011 GM investigators discovered a significant amount of expensive equipment was missing from their Spring Hill plant, where Praino was employed as a forklift operator. Praino emerged as the prime suspect when GM investigators identified some missing equipment being advertised for sale on eBay, and then clandestinely bought it.
When the equipment was delivered to them, the return address for the sender was determined to be Praino’s. GM referred the matter to the Maury Count Sheriff’s Office, who in turn alerted the FBI and the IRS, given the value and volume of the stolen property.
In April 2012, while agents were conducting surveillance, they observed Praino depositing a large parcel for delivery by a commercial shipping company. Agents quickly determined that the package contained expensive, stolen GM equipment, and was to be delivered to Thailand. Agents obtained and executed a search warrant for Praino’s home in Columbia, and found more equipment that had been stolen from the Spring Hill GM facility, which was worth more than $500,000.
A follow-up investigation disclosed Praino had received more than $145,000 from selling the stolen GM equipment, which he failed to disclose when filing his tax return. He owed, but failed to pay about $48,000 in additional income tax for that income, which constituted a second separate federal crime. Praino faces a maximum of 13 years in prison and an order of restitution.
“IRS Criminal Investigation special agents have both law enforcement and financial investigative expertise, which makes them uniquely qualified to assist state and federal law enforcement agencies with these types of investigations by following the money,” said Christopher A. Henry, special agent in charge of the IRS Nashville field office. “Often times, in addition to the initial scheme to defraud, federal tax laws are also violated which can lead to additional jail time. We are proud to work with our law enforcement and prosecutorial partners at the U.S. attorney's office, the FBI and the Maury County Sheriff's Office to obtain today's result and hold those responsible accountable for their actions.”
"[Wednesday's] guilty plea is a prime example of how law enforcement from different agencies and departments can pool their collective operational and investigative efforts and resources to bring the most egregious financial crimes facilitators to justice in all of our communities. The thefts from the General Motors Spring Hill plant not only represent thefts from General Motors, but from each and every American taxpayer, as well," said A. Todd McCall, special agent in charge of the FBI Memphis Division. “The FBI is proud to work investigations such as this alongside the U.S. Attorney's Office, The IRS Criminal Investigation Division, and the Maury County Sheriff's Office to bring these types of criminal violators to justice.”