Ramona tax preparer pleads not guilty to 55 charges

By Neal Putnam

A Ramona tax preparer was indicted by a federal grand jury on 55 charges including a murder-for-hire plot in which he tried to hire a hit man to kill three witnesses involving his previous case for allegedly filing false tax returns.

Steve Martinez, 50, appeared Monday before U.S. District Court Judge William Hayes, who set a trial date for Sept. 5.

On March 15, Martinez stood before U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Mitchell Dembin in an orange jump suit and he gave a clear response to the magistrate when he was asked to enter his plea.

“Your honor, not guilty,” said Martinez in a loud, clear voice.

Martinez was arrested March 2 on suspicion of witness tampering of two women in the alleged murder-for-hire plot, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Orabona told the magistrate he is now accused of trying to kill three witnesses. The third alleged victim is believed to be the husband of one of the two witnesses.

Besides the witness tampering, Martinez is charged with soliciting a crime of violence involving a murder-for-hire plot involving interstate commerce, six counts of mail fraud, 11 counts of fraudulent use of a Social Security number, and 11 counts of aggravated identity theft.

He also pleaded not guilty to money laundering, and 16 counts of procuring or filing a false tax return. Most of the counts were part of his earlier case when he was charged in April 2011.

“He’s a flight risk, a danger to the community,” said the prosecutor, adding that Martinez had allegedly offered to pay $100,000 to an ex-employee for the proposed murders.

The three alleged victims are not named in this article as requested by the prosecutor. They do not live in Ramona. Since they were already witnesses, they will have to testify at Martinez’s trial.

Dembin ordered Martinez held without bail in the Metropolitan Correctional Center.

Before his arrest, Martinez had been free on $350,000 bond, and the magistrate noted he had complied with all reporting conditions.

The prosecutor on Monday also announced his office will be going forward to collect some or all of the previous $350,000 bond that Martinez had posted before his arrest on March 2.

A hearing to discuss forfeiture of any cash from that bond was set for May 21. Martinez worked as an agent with the Internet Revenue Service at an Oceanside office from 1988 to 1992, according to court records. Martinez allegedly sought to have the three witnesses shot, but no actual murder attempt occurred.

Martinez’s limousine driver, Norman Russell Thellmann, 64, of Santee, was arrested March 3 after FBI agents searched his home and found $42,400 in cash in a cereal box. Thellmann was alleged to be the man who would pay the hit man.

Thellmann has pleaded not guilty to witness tampering charges and remains in the federal jail on $250,000 bail.

   
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