The U.S. Attorney’s Office for Oregon has collected nearly $33 million this year, including $10.2 million in criminal cases. (Photo by franckreporter/Getty Images via Canva)

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for Oregon has collected nearly $33 million this year in criminal and civil cases like tax-dodging strip club operators and an electric company that allegedly started wildfires due to faulty transmission equipment, federal officials said Wednesday.

The collections include $10.2 million in criminal cases and $4.6 million in civil actions. The Oregon office also worked with other U.S. Attorney’s offices to collect nearly $17 million through  asset forfeiture and another $1 million in other criminal and civil cases.

Forfeited assets are put into the Department of Justice Assets Forfeiture Fund, which is used to restore money to crime victims and for other law enforcement purposes, officials said. The figures are for the federal fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30.

“The District of Oregon’s Financial Litigation Program staff deliver a valuable service to victims of crime, as well as a valuable return to the American people by holding accountable those who have profited from crimes committed in Oregon and beyond, and by collecting on other actions resulting in civil settlements,” said Katie de Villiers, chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Asset Recovery and Money Laundering Division, in a statement. “We take seriously our obligation to make crime victims as financially whole as possible, whether those victims are private individuals, large companies, or government agencies.”

The money comes from a variety of sources.

In one case, three former operators of two Portland-area strip clubs paid $608,217 after their conviction of conspiring to defraud the IRS and Oregon Department of Revenue. They underreported more than $1.5 million in taxable income and concealed cash their clubs collected from cover charges and dancer stage fees, according to the indictment. 

In another case, Idaho Power Company paid a $1.5 settlement to end a lawsuit that its faulty transmission equipment was responsible for two fires in Baker County: the Powerline Fire in 2014, which burned about five acres of Bureau of Land Management property; and the Lime Hill Fire in 2015, which burned about 2,592 acres of BLM-managed land and 9,337 acres of private land. In the settlement, the Boise-based utility made no admission of wrongdoing.

This year’s collection is down from last year. In the 2021 federal fiscal year, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Oregon collected slightly more than $35 million, said Kevin Sonoff, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Oregon.

But year-to-year comparisons can vary because of various factors, including large settlements, the sale of a defendant’s assets or a change in the defendant’s financial status, he said.

Also, collections can take years and extend well beyond a defendant’s conviction date. For example, the former strip club operators – David Kiraz, 40, of Happy Valley, Oregon, and his father and brother—George Kiraz, 62, and Daniel Kiraz, 37, both of Portland – were convicted in 2016 of filing false income tax returns and each sentenced to one to three years in federal prison.

“In general, the public doesn’t realize that our work, especially in criminal cases, doesn’t end when a defendant is sentenced to prison,” Sonoff said in an interview.

It’s difficult to quantify how many victims the program aids because the money goes toward crime victims that include financial institutions and government agencies – not just individuals, Sonoff said.

Federal law requires defendants found guilty of criminal actions to pay restitution to victims who have suffered a physical injury or financial loss. Other criminal fines and felony assessments go into a crime victims fund, which distributes them to federal and state programs to help victims.

Oregon Capital Chronicle

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Ben Botkin, Oregon Capital Chronicle

Ben Botkin covers justice, health and social services issues for the Oregon Capital Chronicle. He has been a reporter since 2003, when he drove from his Midwest locale to Idaho for his first journalism job. He has written extensively about politics and state agencies in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon. Most recently, he covered health care and the Oregon Legislature for The Lund Report.