Former auto shop owner Lorraine Pilitz leaves the federal courthouse in...

Former auto shop owner Lorraine Pilitz leaves the federal courthouse in Central Islip after a hearing on Thursday. Credit: Morgan Campbell

A Merrick body shop owner convicted of concealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in income from the IRS traveled upstate to “annoy or alarm” a witness who testified against her at trial, federal prosecutors alleged.

Lorraine Pilitz, 64, was spotted March 15 taking video of a tattoo parlor owned by a former employee who testified against her last fall before quickly speeding away when the witness opened the front door to step outside, Assistant U.S. Attorney Burton Ryan told U.S. District Court Judge Joanna Seybert on Thursday.

“We are concerned by the unnecessary visit by Ms. Pilitz to a witness who testified against her,” Ryan told the court in seeking strict travel restrictions, orders of protection and GPS monitoring, a request the judge countered as “rather unusual” in such a case.

Seybert instead told Pilitz she must remain on Long Island before sentencing or seek prior travel approval from the court. Pilitz, who has been free on bond since her indictment in February 2017, was also told to stay away from any witnesses in her case, as Seybert reminded her attorney of the possibility of a new trial.

Lorraine Pilitz, 64, of Merrick was convicted in November of...

Lorraine Pilitz, 64, of Merrick was convicted in November of hiding income from the IRS. Credit: U.S. Attorney's Office

Richard Langone of Garden City, the attorney handling Pilitz’s motion to vacate her conviction, argued his client was on a ski trip last week when she suffered asthma symptoms, with the nearest pharmacy within blocks of the tattoo parlor. She then decided to film the business in case it could be helpful to her legal case, he said.

“That’s where she may have been misguided,” Langone told the judge. “Of course, we're concerned, everyone is concerned, about the safety of witnesses.”

Ryan said federal agents found evidence that Pilitz, also known as Lorraine Christie and Lorraine Storms, was in a vehicle that crossed over the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge heading upstate several hours before being spotted outside the tattoo parlor. The prosecutor described Pilitz as someone with an “explosive temper” who once allegedly “assaulted an IRS agent.”

Between 2011 and 2013, Pilitz, who operated several automobile-related businesses across the region, including in Malverne and Rockville Centre, routinely structured cash bank deposits at just under $10,000 to avoid filing required Currency Transaction Reports with the IRS, authorities said. In total, Pilitz concealed up to $250,000 each of those four years from the IRS, prosecutors said.

As part of the same scheme, officials said, Pilitz diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars in business checks into personal and family bank accounts, maintained “off-the-books” payrolls, failed to file personal and corporate tax returns and filed false tax returns that severely underreported her income.

In a motion filed last month, Langone, who Pilitz hired to represent her after she was convicted in November, argued the jury’s verdict should be set aside and the indictment dismissed because the evidence used during the two-week trial was “legally insufficient” and led to "an unfair trial.” Specifically, he argued prosecutors showed a pattern of cash deposits, but “presented no evidence” as to who made the deposits.

“The government’s case was based on weak inferences and speculation,” Langone told Newsday outside the courtroom.

In a response to Langone’s motion, the U.S. Attorney’s Office argued it presented “vast evidence” for the jury to convict Pilitz and requested that the judge dismiss the motion.

Seybert told the attorneys to expect a ruling in the months ahead, saying that if Pilitz is not granted a new trial, she still has the right to file an appeal.

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