Milton Tillman Jr. and his namesake son, the men behind Four Aces Bail Bonds in Baltimore, were sentenced Friday on federal charges that they defrauded the government of hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes.
The elder Tillman, a former nightclub owner with a lengthy criminal history going back 24 years, was ordered to surrender to the U.S. Marshals Service on Sept. 19 to begin serving a 51-month prison sentence. The 54-year-old defendant had pleaded guilty to three counts: wire fraud, filing a false tax return and working in the bail industry as a convicted felon.
Tillman Jr. was also instructed to pay $120,000 to Ports America, which he admitted to defrauding by pretending to work as a longshoreman and billing for phantom hours. His crimes could have earned him a combined sentence of 28 years and fines of up to $600,000.
His son, Milton Tillman III, will serve a year's confinement, half of it under a community detention program and half at home. He will be permitted to leave for work and remain in the bail business. Both men will serve five-year periods of probation upon their release.
"This is a knowing failure to file income-tax returns," said U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake, who ordered the defendants to negotiate a settlement with the Internal Revenue Service. She said there was no excuse for anyone not to pay taxes, especially in the case of the Tillmans, whose business was by all accounts lucrative.
The IRS estimates that the two men are in arrears to the tune of at least $400,000 and as much as $1 million, and as a condition of their sentences, the judge ordered them to pay whatever sum is agreed upon. The sums at issue stem from both men's failure to pay taxes for a four-year period ending in 2006, prosecutors said.
The younger man, who is 33, has four children and is known as Moe, was also ordered to pay $12,500 in restitution to the government for a single tax year, 2003. Once released, he must serve 100 hours of community service. Moe Tillman has no prior criminal history, a fact that prosecutor Martin J. Clarke acknowledged in his comments to the judge.
"Moe is not his father, and clearly his criminal background is nowhere near that of his father," Clarke said. But, he went on, the younger defendant is still liable in part "for all the unpaid corporate taxes" that went unreported, especially given his status as the company's "frontman."
The younger man had pleaded guilty to one count of failure to file a tax return but had initially been charged alongside his father in a 28-count indictment. All but one of the counts against Moe Tillman were dropped under the agreement.
Neither defendant, who appeared in back-to-back hearings in federal court in Baltimore, chose to address the court before sentencing. But their lawyers were voluble and had as their audience a number of agents for the IRS, the FBI and the Department of Labor's racketeering division, all of whom had investigated the Tillmans' activities.
"Moe Tillman is a very hard-working individual," said Steven A. Allen, the younger man's attorney. "He is not a frontman for his father."
Allen said his client, a graduate of what was then called Northern High School, fathered a son when he was 14 years old — the mother was 18 — and that he continues to support that son. In addition, Allen said, his client is deeply involved in the lives of his three younger children and his wife, who works for the Social Security Administration.
In the case of the older man, prosecutors painted him as the mastermind of a scheme in which he directed the bond company's operations while carefully concealing his role, which he had to do because, as a convicted felon, he could not legally operate such a business. Using a wiretap, federal investigators recorded a conversation in which he discussed how he had concealed his involvement in Four Aces, which prosecutors said included transferring large amounts of money out of the company and into real estate investments.
"We can't have felons involved in a business that courts rely on so much," Clarke said.
Tillman, once a colorful character in the city's nightlife — he ran a club called Odells — has long described himself as a successful businessman unfairly targeted by law enforcement. "Can't get no justice in this city," he told a judge in 1992.
He has prior convictions for extortion and tax evasion, as well as drug trafficking and drug offenses, Clarke told the judge at Friday's hearing. The prosecutor described the defendant's behavior as "thuggish."
Referring to his client's alcohol abuse, Kenneth W. Ravenell, the older defendant's lawyer, said, "He's certainly trying to overcome those demons."