Tax preparer gets 23 years in murder for hire
by Neal Putnam
Published - 04/26/13 - 11:05 AM | 2557 views | 1 1 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Steven Martinez, a Sorrento Valley tax preparer, was sentenced April 12 to 23 years and 10 months in federal prison for fraud and witness tampering that involved an unsuccessful murder-for-hire plot of a La Jolla woman and three others.

U.S. District Court Judge William Hayes ordered Martinez, 51, to pay about $11 million to his former clients, whom he defrauded by preparing bogus tax returns and taking checks that were meant for the Internal Revenue Service. The prosecutor said Martinez used the funds to pay for things like a “well-designed” $700,000 pool and hot tubs at his house.

Hayes also ordered Martinez, a former IRS agent, to pay several million dollars to the IRS and the state Franchise Tax Board.

Martinez has been in jail since his February 2012 arrest, after the FBI investigated the murder-for-hire plot. No one was harmed as the FBI arrested Martinez and his limo driver before anything could be carried out.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Orabona asked for a 29-year sentence while Martinez’s attorney, David Demergian, asked for a 10-year term.

“The victim in La Jolla — she’s terrified every day,” said Orabona, who added the vicitm was too afraid to attend the sentencing.

The financial charges Martinez pleaded guilty to in August 2012 were mail and Social Security fraud, aggravated identity theft, money laundering and making false tax returns. He also pleaded guilty to using a telephone in a murder-for-hire plot, four counts of witness tampering and soliciting a crime of violence.

Orabona said Martinez knew the routines of the four former clients and gave a hit man their photos and pictures of their residences.

The would-be hit man contacted authorities and the FBI videotaped their meeting.

Hayes agreed with the prosecutor the hiring of the hit man “was not an impulsive situation,” calling it “pretty cold blooded.”

“The fraud case went on for a number of years,” said Hayes, adding the fraud was “aggravated” because “he had trust of his clients.”

Demergian told the judge Martinez paid $100,000 in medical costs in 2004 after his young son was diagnosed with autism. Martinez needed more money to pay for ongoing care and the fraud began, he said.

Years later, Martinez “tried to make it right and sat down with the victims to tell them what he had done,” he said.

Demergian said the murder-for-hire plot was never taken seriously and Martinez knew the guy would not go through with it. Martinez didn’t have the $100,000 needed to pay the hit man, despite his statements, he said.

Martinez apologized to his victims and said he would repay them.

“I am very appalled for what I’ve done. I’m truly sorry. Please forgive me,” he said.

He apologized to his limo driver, Russell Thellmann, 65, whom he gave money to give to the hit man. Federal agents found more than $42,000 in cash in a cereal box in Thellmann’s kitchen. Thellmann pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering and was sentenced in 2012 to 34 days in jail, which was time he already served before he posted bond.
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November 08, 2013
This is a very sad story regarding a once prominent tax preparer in the San Diego community. However, the story illustrates the powerful prosecution tactics used by the IRS criminal investigation division and the US attorneys office when it comes to prosecuting tax crimes. The criminal investigations unit can be quite meticulous when it comes to investigating fraud. I have written a great deal about the nature of the CID and their tactics, over at, if you would like to know more about this subject. Let the Martinez case serve as a warning though to people who commit tax crimes.
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