Thursday, December 16, 2010



Portland Gypsy leader accused of filing false tax return, faces potential prison term

Published: Tuesday, December 14, 2010
By Bryan Denson, The Oregonian

A patriarch of Portland's close-knit clan of Gypsies was accused this week of filing a false tax return, the latest development in his four-year battle with the U.S. government.

Bobbie Ephrem, a 53-year-old auto dealer, fell under suspicion in March 2006, when a police informant told IRS agents that Ephrem concealed huge amounts of cash, failed to pay taxes and often used his son's Social Security number, court records show.

The informant told the IRS that Ephrem's retail auto sales business in Northeast Portland raked in $50,000 a month and that a wholesale auto business had brought in $355,000 during a four-day auction in Spokane.

In August 2006, IRS agents carried a search warrant to Ephrem's house and asked about cash and valuables. Ephrem told them he had nothing of consequence in the home, other than perhaps his Rolex watch, the government alleges.

But in less than seven hours, agents turned up $366,768.50 in currency and the keys to safe-deposit boxes. The next day, agents seized $2.3 million more from safe-deposit boxes at three Portland area banks, bringing total cash seizures to $2.7 million.

The IRS issued Ephrem a rare "tax jeopardy assessment," accusing him of not filing income taxes for nine years and calculating that he owed taxes, penalties and interest of $8.5 million.

Ephrem hired prominent Portland lawyer Marc Blackman and sued the government. His complaint accused the IRS of stealing his family fortune, which included more than $1 million of "sacred" inheritance money that belonged to him, his three brothers and a nephew.

Lawyers representing the government and Ephrem's family argued the case for two days before U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman.

The government characterized the $2.7 million seized by the IRS as the misbegotten fruits of a currency-hoarding tax dodger. But Ephrem's lawyers and their witnesses argued that the bulk of the cash was inheritance money, loans, gifts and other proceeds from his extended family; it was his duty, as patriarch, to hold the money.

Ephrem's backers described him as a leader among roughly 3,000 American Gypsies in Portland, who call themselves Roma. They are a cloistered, cash-on-the-barrelhead community that -- after generations of persecution and stereotypes -- tends to eschew checking or bank accounts.

Mosman ordered the government to give back the $2.7 million, with interest, and it did.

Federal prosecutors signed a one-count felony information against Ephrem on Monday that accuses Ephrem of willfully filing a 2006 tax return that he knew was false.

The charge carries a potential prison term of up to three years.

-- Bryan Denson

1 comment:

Bryce Phillips-Horvath said...

I don't really remember it but I have read of it and it sounds similar. A combination of ignorance about a culture that is honestly like how most of the rest of the cultures of the world operate combined with racist sterotypes. Also there is an underlying belief that Gypsies must be poor and unsuccessful by definition. Similar to how cops will pull over a black man just for driving a nice car. My favorite part of that store is how Jimmy Marks got started by finding a crashed truck of Tobasco sauce bottles, buying the bottles he picekd up from off the highway for a penny a piece(he didn't steal them) and then selling them for 15 cents. I've never believed in capitalism because I feel the ideal of it is never the reality lie but that's the ideal in action.