Despite pleas for leniency from friends and family, a federal judge today sentenced a Nigerian-born dentist to a year in federal prison for tax evasion, leaving the man’s Columbus practice in jeopardy.
Dr. Dayo Obebe of Moon Road Cosmetic & Family Dentistry (www.obebe.com) pleaded guilty to one count of tax evasion based on allegations he over three years concealed $500,000 in income from the Internal Revenue Service, avoiding nearly $190,000 in income taxes, prosecutors said.
Authorities allege Obebe in 2004 started hiding money earned from patients paying with credit cards by routing those payments to a bank account kept separate from his cash and check receipts. He hid the income not only from the IRS, but from his own accountants, investigators said.
“Consequently, Obebe intentionally under-reported his total income from the dental practice on his 2004, 2005 and 2006 federal income tax returns by more than $500,000 and falsely claimed a tax refund,” said the Justice Department.
The IRS initiated an audit in 2007, and Obebe lied to auditors questioning him in 2008, claiming he accurately had reported his income, federal agents said. He pleaded guilty Feb. 6.
Among those speaking on his behalf to U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land today was the Rev. Don Wilhite, pastor emeritus of Columbus' Calvary Baptist Church, where Wilhite said Obebe and his family are members.
Wilhite said Obebe is notable for his missionary and charitable work here and overseas, having served impoverished patients in Haiti and Nigeria. The dentist has contributed thousands of dollars to such endeavors, and here in Columbus has donated his services to children at Calvary Christian School and at the church’s facilities for the elderly and impaired.
“He’s a good man,” Wilhite told Land. “He’s made some mistakes. He’s made some misjudgments, and we recognize that.”
The tax evasion case has left Obebe “embarrassed beyond measure,” the pastor added.
Obebe also addressed the court, telling Land: “I know my conduct is not acceptable. I accept full responsibility for that.”
Obebe’s sister-in-law also spoke, telling Land: “He’s not a criminal. He just made one bad mistake that he’s paying for today.”
Obebe’s attorney, Richard Rice Jr., told Land that Obebe not only donated dental services to those overseas, but also cosmetic surgery, helping disfigured children who otherwise would be ostracized in their society.
Rice asked that Land sentence Obebe to probation rather than prison time, noting the dentist employed more than 20 people, and the practice could not continue without him.
Prosecutor Charles Edgar told Land that Obebe had paid taxes before 2004, so his three-year “course of conduct” in hiding income clearly was deliberate and continuing, not inadvertent.
In sentencing the dentist, Land said Obebe’s charitable contributions were “substantial and commendable,” but they would not keep him out of prison.
Allowing an offender’s good works to gain him leniency for three years of tax evasion would be unfair to the millions of Americans who voluntarily and accurately report their income and pay their taxes, the judge said.
That Obebe evaded taxes for three years showed planning, Land said: “It was purposeful. It was intentional. It was not an isolated mistake.”
Under federal sentencing guidelines, Obebe faced up to 18 months in prison, said Land, who besides giving the dentist a year in prison ordered him to pay a $1,000 fine plus the $189,661 he owes the IRS, and to surrender his passport to the U.S. State Department. When released from prison, Obebe is to serve two years on probation, Land said.
According to his website, Obebe graduated in l993 from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dentistry and served his residency at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Dayton, Ohio. He also has a master's degree in health care organization and policy from the University of Alabama.