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Torco owner pleads to $100M fraud case

4:39 PM, Jul 25, 2012   |    comments
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  • Home purchased by Torco Racing Fuels owner Evan Knoll with illegal funds. (Courtesy: U.S. Attorney's Office)
  • Business jet purchased by Torco Racing Fuels owner Evan Knoll with illegal funds. (Courtesy: U.S. Attorney's Office)
  • Race car purchased by Torco Racing Fuels owner Evan Knoll with illegal funds. (Courtesy: U.S. Attorney's Office)
  • Home purchased by Torco Racing Fuels owner Evan Knoll with illegal funds. (Courtesy: U.S. Attorney's Office)
  • Evan Knoll
  • Motorcoach purchased by Torco Racing Fuels owner Evan Knoll with illegal funds. (Courtesy: U.S. Attorney's Office)
    

GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) -- The owner of a West Michigan-based fuel company is facing up to 70 years in federal prison for defrauding the government and banks out of $100 million.

Evan Knoll, founder and former president of Torco Racing Fuels, pleaded guilty to eight counts of making false claims against the U.S. and one count of bank fraud in the scam.  Knoll entered the plea Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids.

Prosecutors say Knoll filed false claims for federal refunds of excise taxes on fuel he said he had purchased.  The excise tax of 18.9 cents per gallon is levied on all gasoline sold in the U.S., but people who purchase the fuel for "off-road" use can apply for refunds of the tax.

Knoll falsely claimed to have purchased massive quantities of fuel to get $80 million in refunds since 2002.  In addition, he used the refunds to get bank loans, causing the banks to lose $10 million before the IRS stopped the scheme in 2008.

Prosecutors say Knoll used the illegally-obtained funds to support a lavish lifestyle, including the purchases of a business jet, large homes in Gaylord and Decatur, a motorcoach, and a drag racing car -- items that were later seized by the IRS.  They say he also used the money to give himself greater exposure in the drag racing community.

"Mr. Knoll's perceived success in the racing industry was
based on the money he was stealing from the American people. Mr. Knoll now faces severe consequences for his actions," said Erick Martinez, special agent in charge of the IRS criminal investigation, in a news release issued Wednesday.

"It is shocking how much federal tax money was stolen by this defendant. Evan Knoll lied to banks, accountants, business partners, his employees, the community he lived in and to the Internal Revenue Service for many years," said U.S. Attorney Pat Miles in the same news release.

Knoll will be sentenced on November 20.

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