Former WTKR anchor enters guilty plea

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – Former WTKR anchor Juliet Bickford pleaded guilty Wednesday to filing a false tax return, but court documents paint a much larger picture.

The charge was a misdemeanor and Bickford was released on a personal recognizance bond.

According to the statement of facts on the case, Bickford lived with a boyfriend from at least September 2009 through September 2011 who had no regular employment in the United States. The boyfriend is not named and is only listed as a Canadian national.

Documents state Bickford held a Bank of America account, which she allowed her boyfriend to use to receive various wire transfers. From May 2009 to September 2011, Bickford’s account received about $526,530.51 in wire transfers from foreign bank accounts in the Bahamas, Canada and Turks and Caicos, all in the names of Cullen Johnson and/or Elaine White. Some of the funds were used for joint expenses of Bickford and her boyfriend.

Document: Statement of Facts

For the 2011 tax year, Bickford’s account received about $107,620.50 in wire transfers. Her boyfriend did not file a tax return and left the U.S. in September 2011, first to Canada and then to Greece.

In the spring of 2012, Bickford had an accountant already working with her for various debt issues to prepare her 2011 tax return, and an initial draft was sent to her on April 10, 2012. The draft had no claimed medical expenses as itemized deductions and she was to receive a refund of $699.

The documents state Bickford responded to the draft and told the accountant she purchased a hot tub in 2011 and her chiropractor said he would give her a prescription for hydrotherapy. She asked if that made the hot tub tax deductible. Bickford said she purchased the hot tub for $12,010.95 with additional hot tub expenses of $1,595.45.

Bickford filed her 2011 tax return on April 15, 2012, and did not report any of the wire transfers as income. Additionally, she reported itemized deductions of $21,138 and ‘improperly claimed a refund of $2,586.’ The tax return had medical and dental expenses of $14,241, which resulted in a claimed medical and dental expenses deduction of $8,256 and Total Itemized Deductions of $21,138.

According to the court documents, the hot tub was purchased with a credit card in Bickford’s mother’s name. Bickford was an authorized user on the card, but wasn’t legally responsible to pay for the charges and could not claim a deduction on her tax return for an expense undertaken by someone else.

“Without the inclusion of expenses related to the hot tub purchase, the defendant would not have been entitled to any deductions for Medical and Dental Expenses,” the document said. “This claimed deduction was a material matter on the defendant’s 2011 U.S. Individual Income Tax Return in that it had the effect of inflating the defendant’s refund for tax year 2011. The claiming of this deduction resulted in a tax loss, for criminal sentencing purposes, of less than five thousand dollars ($5,000).

Among additional court documents obtained by is an indictment for Cullen Johnson, Elaine White and Theodoros Grontis, which indicates Bickford’s involvement was much broader. The indictment alleges Johnson and White were husband and wife operating a business in which they claimed the ability to trace money through various banking systems.

“In reality,” the indictment says, “White and Johnson in many instances provided their clients with fraudulent banking information and forged bank records, a number of them which were prepared by another associate, Theodoros Grontis, a Canadian citizen. White and Johnson would provide records showing that the sought after funds had been moved to another banking institution, requiring additional seraches and additional client fees. Grontis also used fraudulent means to obtain some legitimate banking information in order to successfully pass various client integrity tests.”

The documents say Johnson and White were charged with criminal fraud in 2009, but the couple fled Canada to the Bahamas and then to Turks and Caicos to continue their fraudulent business. The couple was later arrested and pled guilty to money laundering. They were sentenced to 66 months behind bars followed by three years of supervised release. They must also pay $1,021,738.60 in restitution.

In 2009, Grontis permanently moved to Hampton Roads and began living with a person listed as “J.B.” Between 2009 and 2011, White and Johnson made 66 wire transfers to J.B.’s Bank of America account.

“J.B. used these funds to pay for lavish personal expenses for Grontis and herself.”

As part of the plea deal, Bickford agreed to pay the Internal Revenue Service restitution of $10,000. The deal also recommends she not serve any jail time and instead serves probation for one year. The judge does not have to follow the recommendation.

Document: Plea Agreement

She did not respond to questions outside the courthouse.

Bickford is scheduled to be back in court May 6 for sentencing. A prosecutor said there are no plans for future charges against Bickford.

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