Florida woman sentenced in $9M construction employee scam

IRS investigating shell companies and ghost employees in the industry

Florida Woman Sentenced in $9M Construction Employee Scheme
(Illustration by The Real Deal with Getty)

The owner of two shell construction companies in Tampa, Florida, has been sentenced to federal prison for bilking two insurance companies and the IRS out of $9 million.

Gabriela Inamagua was sentenced last week to 12 months and one day in prison by U.S. District Judge Virginia M. Hernandez Covington, according to a press release by the U.S. Department of Justice

Inamagua pleaded guilty on Oct. 4 to charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States and the IRS. The court also ordered her to pay restitution totaling $9 million to two victim insurance companies and the IRS.

Inamagua’s companies, court documents say, falsely represented themselves as suppliers of construction services and labor for contractors and subcontractors. 

To comply with Florida law, the companies were required to maintain worker’s compensation insurance coverage. Inamagua’s scheme involved using agreements with contractors to deploy purported employees  — often undocumented migrant workers — to construction sites, who were actually working under the direction of the contractors. 

Inamagua or her associates would then receive “payroll checks” from contractors, cashing them to cover her alleged employees and related expenses.

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During the relevant period, Inamagua misled insurance companies by falsely reporting limited payroll and a small number of employees on construction sites.

The companies received over $34 million in checks from contractors, significantly surpassing the reported payroll figures. This resulted in inadequate insurance coverage for the actual workers and financial losses for the insurance companies through the loss of insurance premiums they would have received. 

Inamagua’s companies also evaded responsibility for verifying workers’ legal authorization and avoided paying state and federal payroll taxes, totaling more than $8.9 million.

IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent Tara K. Reed said fraudsters often create fictitious shell companies to illegally pay workers off the books, scam insurance companies, and dodge employment taxes. “The construction industry as a whole suffers when fraudsters exploit the system by creating fictitious shell companies to illegally pay workers off the books in order to scam insurance companies and avoid employment taxes,” Reed said.

The case is part of a broader investigation into the use of shell companies and ghost employees in the construction industry.