A North Heights Avenue man, who awaits sentencing on federal tax- and mortgage-fraud charges, has billed The Vindicator $6 million for using his name, which he says is copyrighted, in a news story.
Steven R. Hinz, 41, billed the newspaper $3 million for each of two uses of his name in an Oct. 13 story that reported his guilty plea a day earlier in federal court in Cleveland.
Hinz, who said he placed a copyright on his name Sept. 28, requested payment within 10 days of the Nov. 12 invoice.
He was the last of four Mahoning County residents to plead guilty in a tax-fraud conspiracy case the U.S. attorney says bilked the federal government out of more than $3 million.
“No one can copyright their names,” said Dave Marburger, the newspaper’s Cleveland lawyer.
Copyrights may be obtained by creators of original art, prose, music or software, and “that expression usually has to be more than a couple of words,” he explained.
“It’s so outrageous you can’t even converse about it. It’s like conversing about ‘The Hobbit,’” Marburger said of the copyright claim Hinz has made.
Hinz, who faces up to 83 years in prison, pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiracy to defraud the United States, making a false 2008 income-tax return and conspiracy to commit bank fraud involving a mortgage-fraud scheme, and to 15 counts of assisting the preparation of false income-tax returns.
Others who have pleaded guilty to one or more charges in this case are Patricia A. Polk, 50, and William E. Phillips III, 55, both of Youngstown, and Heather L. English, 43, of Canfield.
Maximum prison terms are 35 years for Polk, eight years for English and five years for Phillips.
U.S. District Judge Patricia A. Gaughan set all four defendants’ sentencings for next month. All defendants are jailed without bond pending sentencing, except English, who is free on a $20,000 unsecured bond.
The indictment says Hinz promoted a scheme to defraud the government by filing false federal income-tax returns claiming large tax refunds using the original issue discount process.
The scheme involved preparation of fictitious IRS forms that falsely reported that financial institutions, creditors and other entities had withheld large amounts of federal income tax on behalf of defendants and other taxpayers with respect to nonexistent income, the U.S. attorney said.
After the indictment was filed in December 2011, Hinz was arrested in Miami in January, and Polk was arrested in Sarasota, Fla., in February.
Phillips was arrested in Los Angeles in June after having been deported from the Philippines upon request of the U.S. government.
English surrendered to U.S. marshals at the federal courthouse in Cleveland after learning of the warrant for her arrest.
The case was investigated by the IRS, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.