Continuing its enforcement push against refund fraud and identity theft, the Internal Revenue Service has announced the Top Ten identity theft prosecutions for fiscal year 2014.
They range from filing false tax returns based on stolen IDs to a tax preparer who participated in filing more than 1,000 false returns. The perpetrators come from all around the nation, from New York to Florida, and Ohio to Alaska.
A wide variety of schemes were involved, including “Free Government Money,” a fake charity, toll-free numbers, recruiting college students and a postal worker, and illegally using names from lists of prison inmates, child support enforcement data, and health department contacts. In one case, a perpetrator ate a debit card while in police custody.
‘Send a warning to criminals’
“Identity theft is a crime that carries significant consequences, and these cases send a warning to criminals,” said Richard Weber, chief of the IRS Criminal Investigations (CI) division.
“Our Top Ten cases represent the seriousness of these crimes and the magnitude of the consequences that will be faced by those who victimize honest taxpayers and steal from hard-working Americans,” Weber said.
The federal government’s Identity Theft Clearinghouse continues to develop and refer identity theft refund fraud schemes to CI field offices for investigation. Since its inception in 2012, the clearinghouse has received more than 7,600 individual identity theft leads. These leads involved approximately 1.47 million returns with over $6.8 billion in refunds claimed.
The Top Ten identify theft cases
Here is a summary of the Top Ten ID theft cases, as provided by the IRS and based on public information available in court records:
1. North Carolina couple
On April 24, 2014 in Charlotte, N.C., Senita Birt Dill and Ronald Jeremy Knowles were sentenced to 324 and 70 months in prison, respectively. Both were also ordered to pay $3.98 million in restitution to the IRS.
Dill and Knowles pleaded guilty to false claims of conspiracy and access device fraud. Dill also pleaded guilty to aggravated identity theft.
Dill and Knowles used fraudulently obtained personal identification information (including names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers) to file false tax returns claiming tax refunds. Dill and Knowles used neighboring addresses to fill out the fraudulent tax returns and checked the homes’ mailboxes frequently to retrieve the fraudulent refund checks upon delivery.
The defendants also used addresses in Greenville and Greer, S.C., which belonged to Knowles’ businesses. Dill and Knowles filed over 1,000 false tax returns using the fraudulently obtained personal identification information.
2. Georgia man
On Aug. 25, 2014 in Atlanta, Ga., Mauricio Warner was sentenced to 240 months, three years of supervised release, ordered to pay $5 million in restitution and forfeit bank accounts that contained $4.2 million. Warner was convicted on wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, filing false claims, and money laundering.
Warner filed over 5,000 false tax returns using the names and Social Security numbers of unsuspecting victims that were told they could submit an application for an “Obama Stimulus Payment” or “Free Government Money” by providing their names and Social Security numbers.
In addition to word-of-mouth marketing, Warner used toll-free telephone numbers to collect victims’ personal identifying information.
3. Dallas men
On May 15, 2014 in Dallas, Texas, Ogiesoba City Osula was sentenced to 210 months in prison and ordered to pay $15.9 million in restitution. Osula was convicted on conspiracy to commit wire fraud, mail fraud and bank fraud; presenting fraudulent claims upon the United States; access device fraud, and aiding and abetting; and aggravated identity theft, and aiding and abetting.
Previously sentenced were co-defendants George Ojonugwa, sentenced to 174 months and ordered to pay $16 million in restitution; Eseos Igiebor, sentenced to 96 months and ordered to pay $9.7 million in restitution; Ebenezer Legbedion, sentenced to 40 months and ordered to pay more than $1 million in restitution; and Evelyn Nyaboke Haley, sentenced to 60 months and ordered to pay $5.7 million in restitution.
The defendants conspired to defraud the United States by using stolen identity information and false information to create and electronically file false tax returns to claim refunds. On Nov. 8, 2011, police in a Cincinnati suburb questioned Osula and Ojonugwa, who were in a parked car. When the vehicle was searched, police found more than $300,000 in cash and money orders and numerous debit cards.
During that incident, while Osula was in a police car and waiting to be questioned, he ate a debit card.
4. Florida man
On Sept. 17, 2014 in Miami, Fla., Kevin Cimeus was sentenced to 156 months in prison and three years of supervised release. Cimeus was convicted of conspiracy to steal government property or money, theft of government money or property, access device theft, and aggravated identity theft.
Federal agents found over 2,400 Social Security numbers and names of real people stored on thumb drives, laptop computers, iPad, and Cimeus’ email account at Cimeus’ residence. Cimeus recruited Miami Dade College students to allow him to use their bank accounts to receive fraudulently obtained tax refunds.
Cimeus also used his own bank accounts to receive fraudulently obtained tax refunds. Cimeus filed at least 1,000 tax returns from two IP addresses. He also used the two IP addresses to access the Social Security Administration’s website and create online profiles for Social Security recipients in order to re-route the victims’ Social Security payments to other accounts.
5. Ohio man
On Aug. 21, 2014 in Columbus, Ohio, Roma L. Sims was sentenced to 100 months in prison, three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $3.5 million in restitution to the IRS. Sims pleaded guilty to aggravated identity theft, wire fraud, and conspiring to commit identity theft in a scheme to defraud the IRS.
Sims advertised through various means in order to collect personal identification information from low-income or unemployed single parents with children. After tricking the innocent individuals who responded into providing their personal identification information, Sims prepared and filed false income tax returns in their names.
Sims also obtained additional personal identification information by conspiring with Robert Earthman, who had access to the Kentucky child support enforcement database, which contained personal identification information of single parents with children who were recipients of child support.
In total, Sims was responsible for the preparation and filing of approximately 977 income tax returns for the 2010 to 2012 tax years.
Samantha C. Towns was sentenced to three years of probation and ordered to pay $1.3 million in restitution to the IRS. Robert S. Earthman was sentenced to 24 months in prison, three years of supervised release and was ordered to pay $1.3 million in restitution to the IRS.
6. New York tax preparer
On April 24, 2014, Mahamadou Daffe, a tax preparer in Queens, N.Y., was sentenced to 102 months in prison and three years of supervised release.
Daffe was found guilty of conspiracy to steal government funds, theft of government funds, conspiracy to file false claims, wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft in connection with the preparation and filing of nearly 1,000 false income tax returns submitted online using stolen identities.
7. Alabama man
On April 29, 2014, in Montgomery, Ala., Harvey James was sentenced to 110 months in prison, three years of supervised release and ordered to pay $618,042 in restitution. James pleaded guilty to mail fraud and aggravated identity theft.
James and his sister, Jacqueline Slaton, obtained stolen identities from various individuals, including one person who had access to inmate information from the Alabama Department of Corrections. James and others used those inmate names to file federal and state tax returns that claimed fraudulent refunds. Vernon Harrison, a U.S. Postal Service employee, provided James with addresses from his postal route, which were used as mailing addresses for the fraudulent prepaid debit cards and state tax refund checks.
In total, James filed over 1,000 federal and state income tax returns that claimed over $1 million in fraudulent tax refunds. Slaton was sentenced to 70 months in prison, and Harrison was sentenced to 111 months in prison.
8. Alaska brothers
On December 30, 2013, in Anchorage, Alaska, Joel Santana-Pierna and Abel Santana-Pierna, citizens of the Dominican Republic residing in Alaska, were sentenced to 135 months and 72 months in prison, respectively.
In addition, they were ordered to pay $559,755 in restitution to the IRS and agreed to forfeit approximately $130,000 obtained as part of their drug trafficking activities. The brothers pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute cocaine and conspiracy to defraud the government.
The Santana-Pierna brothers conspired to use more than 3,000 stolen Puerto Rican identities to file false income tax returns and obtain large income tax refunds to which they were not entitled. In total, 11 individuals have been sentenced in this scheme, with sentencings ranging from probation to 135 months in prison.
9. Florida woman
On Oct. 22, 2014 in Orlando, Fla., Tanya Fox was sentenced to 240 months in prison for conspiracy to defraud the federal government, wire fraud, theft of government property, and aggravated identity theft. Fox was also ordered to pay a money judgment of $4 million.
On July 24, 2014, Fox was found guilty by a jury of one count of conspiracy, five counts of wire fraud, 10 counts of theft of government property, and 10 counts of aggravated identity theft.
According to court documents, Fox orchestrated a scheme to file fraudulent tax returns using identities that had been stolen from a variety of sources. Fox directed other individuals to open business bank accounts in the name of a fraudulent tax preparation business and to have the tax refunds deposited into those accounts.
She then worked with those individuals to withdraw the funds and she spent the money on several luxury and other vehicles, cosmetic surgery, and to open a restaurant in the Orlando area.
Four others have been sentenced for providing approximately 2,400 names from the Orange County Health Department to Fox, with sentencing’s ranging from 60 months to 18 months in prison.
10. Bogus charity in Ohio
On June 12, 2014 in Columbus, Ohio, Jonathan Webster was sentenced to 108 months in prison, three years of supervised release and ordered to pay $1.5 million in restitution. Webster pleaded guilty to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.
Webster purchased advertising in newspapers representing himself as a charity seeking to provide financial assistance to others. Webster set up an online website where individuals responding to the advertisements could provide their names and Social Security numbers. Webster and a co-conspirator electronically filed more than 500 false income tax returns using the names and Social Security numbers of the individuals.
Many cases investigated
In fiscal year 2014, the IRS initiated 1,063 identity theft-related investigations. Criminal Investigation enforcement efforts resulted in 748 sentencings, as compared to 438 in fiscal year 2013, an increase of 75%. The incarceration rate rose 7% from the previous year, to 88%.
The courts also imposed more jail time in 2014, with the average months of those being sentenced rising to 43 months as compared to 38 months in fiscal year 2013. The longest sentence was 27 years.
Working with state, local police
The nationwide Law Enforcement Assistance Program provides for the disclosure of federal tax return information associated with the accounts of known and suspected victims of identity theft with the express written consent of those victims.
There are now more than 755 state and local law enforcement agencies from 47 states participating.
Since the start of the program, more than 6,776 requests were received from state and local law enforcement agencies.
Learn more about identity theft and what the IRS is doing to combat it at www.IRS.gov/identitytheft.