John Anthony Castro, a long-shot Republican presidential hopeful, recently found himself in hot water with the law. The 40-year-old Texan was charged with 33 counts of aiding tax fraud in what prosecutors described as “stunningly brazen” crimes.
Castro’s legal troubles stem from his virtual tax preparation business, Castro & Company LLC. According to the federal indictment, Castro promised customers inflated tax refunds, generated through fraudulent deductions. He would then split the extra refund money with the taxpayers. An undercover IRS agent was offered over $6,000 in bogus deductions in 2018, netting Castro’s company nearly $3,000.
“Mr. Castro continued in a similar pattern with dozens of other taxpayers, resulting in hundreds of thousands of improperly paid claims,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas stated. If convicted on all counts, Castro faces up to 99 years behind bars.
Castro maintains his innocence, calling the charges “retaliation” for his repeated legal actions against former President Donald Trump. Over the past few months, Castro filed at least 27 lawsuits seeking to disqualify Trump from the 2024 presidential race.
The legal rationale stems from Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which bars federal office to those who “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the U.S. Castro’s suits allege Trump’s involvement in the January 6th Capitol attack crossed that threshold. So far, most of the cases have been dismissed or withdrawn. But Castro’s efforts did help remove Trump from the Colorado and Maine 2024 ballots, decisions the ex-president is currently appealing.
In his lawsuits, Castro claimed the “constitutionally ineligible” Trump being on the ballot would negatively impact his own presidential aspirations. However, courts have noted Castro’s essentially nonexistent voter base in states like New Hampshire.
Nonetheless, Castro sees convenient timing in his sudden indictment.
“Fast forward three years later, I decided to start suing Trump in September 2023, and that is when they decide that they’re going to now impanel a grand jury and present that issue and try to secure an indictment,” Castro told Newsweek. “It’s pure and total political retaliation.”
He argues the IRS matter was settled back in 2021 after he took “corrective action.” The new criminal case was only opened after he challenged Trump’s eligibility several months ago. Leigha Simonton, the U.S. Attorney who announced Castro’s charges, was appointed under President Biden.
There is some precedent of past administrations allegedly using IRS audits and tax charges to target political foes. Castro pointed to accusations that Trump had the IRS improperly audit former FBI leaders James Comey and Andrew McCabe after their firings. A 2022 Treasury watchdog report, however, found no evidence those audits were politically motivated.
Nonetheless, Castro remains convinced the tax evasion allegations are an underhanded attempt to thwart his White House bid.
“This is intentional targeting and political retaliation and abuse of the grand jury process,” he told Newsweek. “They’re just concerned with the headline ‘person suing Trump is arrested on tax charges.’ It’s their way of trying to sideline me and basically just silence me.”
An Uphill Battle Gets Even Tougher
Castro’s lawsuits against Trump have certainly brought more national attention to his extreme long-shot candidacy. However, his campaign was already facing immense hurdles on the path to Pennsylvania Avenue.
In a historically crowded Republican primary field, Castroregistered virtually no support among voters in early polling. He also reported raising no money as of September 30th, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
While Castro claimed his suits against Trump were out of concern for the sanctity of the democratic process, many saw it as a thinly veiled publicity stunt to fuel name recognition for his campaign.
“Castro’s lawsuits have the effect of promoting his ‘campaign,’” wrote U.S. District Judge Carl J. Nichols before dismissing the case in D.C. “One might think that a candidate with a real chance of being elected President would be fundraising or campaigning in key states, but Castro has instead filed nuisance lawsuits across the country.”
The newly announced federal indictment will likely only deepen Castro’s presidential long-shot status. However, he remains defiant despite the odds.
“I’m looking forward to this going to trial and proving to a jury that this is nothing more than malicious prosecution,” Castro told Newsweek, vowing to eventually sue the government for prosecutorial misconduct.
Only time will tell if Castro‘s belief in a broad political conspiracy against him holds legal water. But for now, his White House aspirations look like an ever more distant mirage amid the desert of legal troubles on the horizon.