White-collar criminals often manage to avoid serious prison time and just pay back what they owe, and so it was again Monday when a federal judge gave a North Fayette day care owner a day in jail for pulling a $300,000 tax fraud rip-off.

U.S. District Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan imposed that term on Rebecca Lynn Boyce, owner of Cutie Patootie Daycare, and ordered her to pay $367,000 in restitution to the IRS. He also ordered her to be on probation for three years, the first six months of which she’ll be on home detention.

Boyce, 44, had admitted to failure to pay payroll taxes to the IRS for her company over several years, despite a previous audit and warnings from the agency.

Federal prosecutors wanted her to go to federal prison for the guideline range of a year to 18 months.

Her lawyer asked for probation, saying she’s a mother of four and that it doesn’t make sense to spend more taxpayer money to lock her up instead of just making her pay back the money.

Boyce had been indicted in 2021 on 16 counts of failure to turn over taxes following an investigation by the criminal investigation division of the IRS. Agents determined that she withheld payroll taxes from her employees for each quarter from 2015 through 2018. But she didn’t turn that money over to the government as required.

She also didn’t file any quarterly forms as required from March 31, 2015, through the quarter ending on Dec. 31, 2018.

It wasn’t like Boyce didn’t have any warnings. The civil side of the IRS had audited her and commenced collection actions before bringing in the criminal side of the agency and the U.S. attorney’s office, prosecutors said.

Her lawyer, public defender Linda Cohn, said Boyce had operated the day care for 15 years and had no prior criminal history. She’d been working in a bakery during the prosecution of the case and remained devoted to her four kids — ages 15, 13, 11 and 8 — whom she is raising with her husband.

“They rely on their mother,” Cohn said in arguing for no prison. She said the children will be traumatized by having their mother locked up and risk facing long-term repercussions.

Among many factors, federal judges have to consider the concept of “respect for the law” in crafting sentences. Cohn said probation does that “more so than spending taxpayer money to incarcerate Ms. Boyce, who is working, will have to pay restitution, and is raising her children.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Lew argued that Boyce should get the 12 to 18 months behind bars recommended by sentencing guidelines.

He said she was well aware of her tax obligations yet chose not to turn over the tax money and didn’t make any payments until a federal grand jury indicted her.

He said her crime “was not a one-time mistake but instead a willful decision over a period of years to avoid complying with important tax obligations.”

She also doesn’t have any excuses, he said. She’s well educated, he noted, and wasn’t raised under any significant hardships.

The judge sided with the defense and gave her a day in jail, along with three years of probation, and ordered her to pay full restitution plus interest.

Torsten covers the courts for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Reach him at jtorsteno@gmail.com.

Torsten Ove

Torsten covers the courts for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Reach him at jtorsteno@gmail.com.