Joseph Smith, 57, formerly of Fishkill, New York, was sentenced to three years and six months in prison, three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $2,100,450 in restitution by U.S. District Court Judge Gerald J. Pappert for his scheme to defraud prospective franchisees of more than $2.1 million, collectively.
In February 2022, the defendant, the owner of New York Bagel Enterprises Inc., (New York Bagel), which operated in Pennsylvania and other states, pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and tax evasion in connection with this scheme. According to court documents and statements made in court, Smith and Dennis Mason, charged separately, made numerous misrepresentations to individuals interested in buying a New York Bagel franchise. These misrepresentations included: a guarantee that New York Bagel could get financing for the prospective franchisee, the actual costs to open a franchise, the number of franchises that were already open or opening, and the profitability of existing franchises. The defendant and Mason charged prospective franchisees fees ranging between $7,500 and $44,500 to gain rights to open stores. When some prospective franchisees learned of the misrepresentations and demanded their money back, Smith refused to refund these fees. As a result of the fraud, Smith and New York Bagel sold more than 160 franchises and obtained more than $2.1 million in franchise fees.
From 2014 through 2016, Smith deposited more than $1.3 million franchise fees into New York Bagel bank accounts which he controlled. The defendant spent these funds on personal items unrelated to the business, including rent for his home, travel, car payments for personal vehicles and living expenses. Smith did not file corporate or individual income taxes for these three years or pay the taxes he owed to the IRS.
In addition to the term of imprisonment, Smith was ordered to serve three years of supervised release and pay $2,100,450 in restitution.
Mason previously pleaded guilty to related charges and was sentenced to three years in prison in April 2022.
“While Smith was defrauding investors out of their franchise fees, he also evaded nearly $175,000 in taxes due on that income,” said Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart M. Goldberg of the Justice Department’s Tax Division. “Business owners who pay the IRS their fair share of taxes deserve to compete on a level playing field. Competitors who cut corners and seek to skirt their legal obligations should know they will be investigated and prosecuted.”
“Individuals seeking to own and operate business franchises are seeking opportunity and financial stability for themselves and their families; they deserve honesty and forthrightness in their business dealings so they can make informed decisions,” said U.S. Attorney Jacqueline C. Romero for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. “Mr. Smith took advantage of his position to swindle millions of dollars from people seeking legitimate business opportunities, and for that crime he will now spend years in prison.”
“Joseph Smith peddled what looked like a great opportunity to potential franchisees,” said Special Agent in Charge Jacqueline Maguire of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division. “But once they signed on the dotted line, they learned he’d been peddling something else instead. Smith treated their franchise fees like found money. It was a clear-cut case of fraud and this sentence puts him behind bars and provides some justice for his victims. The FBI will always fight to hold crooks like this accountable.”
“Mr. Smith’s scheme served no purpose other than to mislead and defraud perspective franchisees,” said Special Agent in Charge Yury Kruty of IRS-Criminal Investigation. “Furthermore, he took steps to hide his earnings from IRS, thus shirking his tax liability. The sentence he received is a victory for all Americans who play by the rules.”
The FBI and IRS-Criminal Investigation are investigating the case.