Tax evasion sentence handed down for ex-Army Ranger and US Airways pilot

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A former Beaver County sheriff's deputy was sentenced today to two and a half years in prison for tax evasion and failure to file income tax returns.

Thomas D. Tuka, 64, of Big Beaver, was an Army Ranger and decorated Vietnam veteran who went on to become a US Airways mechanic, pilot and captain.

In 1996, he went on disability with carpal tunnel syndrome and started collecting payments of about $80,000 a year under the airline's plan.

Starting in 1999, he refused to pay taxes on that income, despite tax court and appeals court decisions deeming it taxable.

"Somewhere along the way, defendant adopted anti-government views, in particular an antipathy toward paying federal income taxes," wrote assistant U.S. attorney Leo Dillon in a court memorandum.

Tuka established an off-shore trust in Belize and "submitted a phony tax return to obtain college aid for his son," Mr. Dillon wrote.

The tax loss to the country totals $161,462, he wrote.

Tuka became a Beaver County deputy sheriff, but refused to serve tax notices, Mr. Dillon wrote.

A jury found Tuka guilty at a January trial.

"For every dollar that a tax evader holds back and doesn't pay to the country, that's another dollar the country doesn't have to operate with," Mr. Dillon told U.S. District Judge Terrence McVerry. "That's another dollar that we have to borrow from China."

Tuka's attorney, assistant federal public defender Penn Hackney, argued that the former deputy in May filed tax returns for the years 2002 through 2012, agreeing to pay "enormous sums as penalties and interest."

He pushed for a one-year sentence.

Judge McVerry acknowledged Tuka's military service but said that by bucking his taxes, he "thumbed your nose at those serving today, and at your fellow Americans who pay their taxes dutifully."

The prison sentence is to start within two months, and Tuka must pay the taxes plus a $10,000 fine and then faces three years of post-release probation.

Tuka declined comment to the judge and to reporters.

Judge McVerry said he will hold a hearing on whether Tuka had a right to a public defender's services, or must pay the government the cost of Mr. Hackney's services.

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Rich Lord: or 412-263-1542. Twitter: @richelord.


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