David Cay Johnston (New York Times), Michael C. Cooper, Convicted in Tax Scam, Dies a Prisoner at 66:
For decades Michael C. Cooper ran small-time investment and marketing scams in Topeka, Kan., repeatedly clashing with securities and consumer protection agencies. He mocked their actions as inconsequential and ineffective.
Then, in 1997, as Senate hearings in Washington were dramatizing supposed abuses of taxpayers by the Internal Revenue Service, Mr. Cooper saw an opportunity to profit from public resentment of the tax system — and to move up from a local flimflam artist to a national one.
He launched Renaissance/The Tax People, a tax-avoidance business that ultimately ensnared about 50,000 Americans — until a Kansas state judge shut the firm down in 2001, ruling that it was an illegal pyramid scheme of a “fundamentally deceptive nature” that had cost customers and investors at least $84 million.
Tried, convicted and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison, Mr. Cooper never got out. He died on April 3, the Federal Bureau of Prisons confirmed without stating a cause.
He had been held at the United States Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kan., before being moved to a nearby hospital three months ago for bypass surgery, which did not go well, according to a social media post by his daughter, Crissy Moussa.
Mr. Cooper, who had been scheduled for release in August, was 66.
Mr. Cooper’s business involved soliciting investors who would pay up to $1,200 plus $100 a month for each “package” of tax-avoidance methods they received, with promises that their income tax obligations would shrivel.
The Tax People was the subject of a front-page article in The New York Times in September 2000, part of a series on tax schemes that was awarded a Pulitzer Prize.