Four time-share agents who work for the same Hilton Head Island company have been charged with state-tax evasion, and the S.C. Department of Revenue said it continues to investigate in southern Beaufort County.
The arrests followed routine audits by the Department of Revenue, according to public information officer Samantha Cheek. The discovery has prompted a "big, ongoing investigation in the area," into tax evasion and fraud, said Cheek, who would not offer further details.
Stephen Deutsch of Bluffton was arrested Aug. 9 and charged with failure to file state income tax returns from 2005 through 2010. The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office assisted with the arrest.
Deutsch, 47, earned $321,876 in income from 2005 through 2010, with a state tax liability of more than $19,000, according to the Department of Revenue. If convicted, he faces up to six years in prison and $60,000 in fines.
Deutsch was working for Sunrise Vacation Properties of Hilton Head, according to online records from the S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
Three other time-share agents working for that company were arrested the month before and also were charged with failing to pay income taxes, according to state records.
Leigh Hoppe, 48, was arrested July 18, accused of not paying $8,944 in taxes on $190,465 of income earned from 2007 to 2009. If convicted, she faces up to three years in prison and or $30,000 in fines.
Robert Lauderman was arrested July 13, accused of not paying $21,809 in taxes on $417,302 of income earned from 2006 to 2010. He faces up to five years in prison and or $50,000 in fines, if convicted. The Sheriff's Office assisted with that arrest, as well.
Lauderman's co-worker, Freda McKinney, 58, was arrested a day earlier, for allegedly failing to pay $25,771 in taxes on $633,269 of income earned during the same years. If convicted, she, too, faces up to five years in prison and or $50,000 in fines.
Attempts Thursday and Friday to contact a Sunrise Vacation Properties representative were unsuccessful. A recorded phone message tells callers the company's longtime reservationist retired as of last week and apologizes for delays "during this time of transition." No charges have been brought against the business, Cheek said.
Agents must pass a sales examination and credit check and have graduated from high school to sell time shares in the state.
Deutsch, Lauderman and McKinney all have licenses that lapsed in June of last year, according to online state records. Hoppe's license is still active.
None have been disciplined by the S.C. Real Estate Commission, which handles licensing of timeshare agents, but could lose their licenses if the commission chooses to investigate, said Lesia Kudelka, spokeswoman for the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
They could reapply for a new license after a year, but must prove to the commission they are trustworthy and competent to do business in the state, according to South Carolina law.