Federal prosecutors call it one of the most outrageous displays of deceit they've ever seen. This week, a jury convicted former Bellevue real estate developer Winston Bontrager and his longtime girlfriend, Pauline Anderson, on 25 counts of tax evasion.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Carl Blackstone and Aravind Swaminathan say the IRS spent close to 7,000 hours over the last five years investigating the couple.
"What the case showed is that he was involved in three real estate deals that generated about $23 million in income, and he hid most of that income from the government," said Blackstone. "This is massive fraud."
Bontrager also failed to pay more than $2.7 million in income taxes.
"It's not a crime to live a nice lifestyle," said Swaminathan. "What is a crime is when you have all that money and decide not to pay taxes."
Prosecutors say that Bontrager hid his fortune in Australian bank accounts using Anderson's name.
He then lied to the government and said they were living in a modest Bellevue apartment home, paying just $867 in rent.
In reality, a $740,000 condo was the place they called home. The couple also spent another half a million dollars renovating it, with things like a $30,000 chandelier and gold plated faucets in the bathroom. They owned a $325,000 wine collection, a $186,000 Bentley, and a $1.2 million vacation home in California.
Their credit card bills, totaling more than $3.4 million dollars, including $20,000 in charges at Nordstrom's and thousands more spent on hair plugs for Bontrager.
"And during all this time, he's telling the federal government that he's a man of modest means, he has no money, no assets, he can't pay restitution," said Blackstone.
Bontrager was convicted in 1983 and 1994 for bank fraud. As a result, he was ordered to pay $687,000 in restitution, but that never happened.
As soon as he got out of federal prison, prosecutors say he went back to his old ways.
Now, they hope this latest conviction sends a message to him, Anderson, and anyone else committing tax evasion.
"Everyone is obligated to pay their fair share, and if you're not doing it, we're going to come looking and if we can find you and prove it, you're going to face jail time," said Swaminathan.
Bontrager and Anderson will be sentenced separately on November 22nd.
Prosecutors say they will push for the maximum punishment.