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Valdez couple admit they dodged federal income taxes

Casey Grove

A Valdez husband and wife who haven't filed a tax return since 1984 pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to avoiding more than $190,000 in federal income taxes, according to the plea agreement.

While Gary Jokela worked as a welder in the Prince William Sound community, his wife, Marladeen, deposited his cashed paychecks into a secret bank account in her name, the plea agreement says. The couple admitted they had been using cash or money orders for years to pay for personal expenses, including their mortgage, a motor home, a timeshare and vacations, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Gary Jokela had an outstanding tax liability of more than $109,000 that the IRS moved to collect in 1998. By 2005 -- after claiming illegal deductions or exemptions on at least two occasions -- the IRS sent the Jokelas a notice that it planned to go after the money, and Marladeen Jokela opened an account in her name, the plea agreement says.

The couple tried to tell Gary Jokela's employer, Harris Sand and Gravel, to stop withholding taxes from his paychecks. In 2007, the Jokelas filed documents with official-sounding titles -- one was "Declaration of Protected Individual and Work Eligibility Verification" -- demanding that Jokela's employer "immediately stop" withholding taxes from his pay. The documents were not official tax forms, according to the plea agreement.

As of Tuesday, the Jokelas' tax bill, including penalties and interest, came to $193,669.

The plea agreement between federal prosecutors and the Jokelas does not mention any sentencing recommendations or agreements. Federal law provides for a possible prison sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to $250,000.

Reach Casey Grove at casey.grove@adn.com or 257-4589.


By CASEY GROVE
Anchorage Daily News