By Neal Putnam
A federal judge set a Jan. 17 sentencing date for a Ramona tax preparer who pleaded guilty to soliciting a murder-for-hire plot in which he asked a would-be hit man to kill three witnesses who were his former clients.
The U.S. Attorney’s office has recommended a 23-year federal prison term for Steven Martinez, 51, and a forfeiture of $11 million. His attorney is seeking a sentence of no more than 10 years, according to court records.
Martinez pleaded guilty Aug. 10 to soliciting a violent crime, money laundering, witness tampering, procuring false tax returns, Social Security fraud, aggravated identity theft, and making false tax returns from his business.
No actual murder attempts were made as Martinez was arrested in February after the would-be hit man notified the FBI. None of the would-be victims lived in Ramona. Martinez remains in jail without bail.
U.S. District Court Judge William Hayes sent e-mails to the attorneys last week canceling the scheduled Dec. 14 sentencing and the new sentencing date.
Martinez’s limo driver, Norman Russell Thellmann, 65, of Santee, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering after federal agents found $42,400 in cash inside a cereal box in his kitchen. Thellmann claimed he didn’t know about the murder plot, but was following instructions to give the money to another person.
The would-be victims were witnesses who had been expected to testify in Martinez’s trial for mail fraud. He was free on bond when he started the murder-for-hire plot.
Martinez was a former agent with the Internal Revenue Service. As a tax preparer he instructed his clients to pay their tax debts to client trust accounts instead of the IRS. Martinez then used those accounts for his own use.
He filed two sets of returns for some clients. One showed they owed a lot of taxes and another return that showed they didn’t owe much.