U.S. Department of Justice bashes $20 million identity refund fraud ring

Michael Cooney

The US Department of Justice said 10 people were indicted today for their roles in a $20 million stolen identity refund fraud conspiracy.

The group -- Tracy Mitchell, Dameisha Mitchell, Latasha Mitchell, Keisha Lanier, Tameka Hoskins, Sharondra Johnson, Cynthia Johnson, Mequetta Snell-Quick, Talarious Paige and Patrice Taylor used the stolen IDs to file 7,000 false tax returns a crime the DoJ and the Internal Revenue Service highlighted this year as one they were going after with renewed gusto.

According to the indictment, between January 2011 and December 2013, the defendants ran a large-scale identity theft ring. The defendants obtained stolen identities from various sources to be used in filing false returns. Tracy Mitchell worked at the hospital on Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga., where she had access to the identification data of military personnel, including soldiers who were deployed to Afghanistan. Mitchell and her daughter, Latasha Mitchell, also obtained stolen identities from an Alabama state agency. Lanier obtained stolen identities from the Alabama Department of Corrections. Paige and Taylor worked in a call center for a Columbus company and stole identities.

In order to file tax returns, the defendants obtained Electronic Filing Numbers in the names of several tax preparation businesses. On behalf of those tax preparation businesses, the defendants applied for bank products from various financial institutions, which mailed blank check stock to the defendants' homes, the DoJ stated.

The defendants sent anticipated tax refunds to prepaid debit cards, to U.S. Treasury checks and to financial institutions, which in turn issued the refunds via checks or prepaid debit cards, the DoJ stated. The defendants directed U.S. Treasury checks to be mailed to several addresses in Alabama and then obtained those checks from the mail. The defendants coordinated the cashing of the refund checks by sending various text messages among themselves. The defendants cashed the fraudulent checks at several businesses located in Alabama, Georgia and Kentucky. In addition to the conspiracy charge, the defendants are also charged with mail and wire fraud, access device fraud and aggravated identity theft, according to the indictment.

If convicted, each defendant faces a statutory maximum potential sentence of 10 years in prison for the conspiracy charge, a statutory maximum potential sentence of 20 years in prison for each wire and mail fraud count, a statutory maximum potential sentence of 15 years in prison for each access device fraud count, and a mandatory two year sentence in prison for each aggravated identity theft count. The defendants are also subject to fines, forfeiture and mandatory restitution, the DoJ stated.  

Earlier this year the IRS' Criminal Investigation unit said it had started 295 new identity theft investigations since January, pushing the number of active cases to more than 1,800.

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