MONTGOMERY, AL (WTVM) – Eight residents from both Alabama and Georgia have pleaded guilty for their roles in a stolen identity refund fraud case.
According to court documents, between January 2011 and December 2013, the defendants ran a large-scale identity theft ring in which they filed more than 7,000 false tax returns that included fraudulent claims for refunds in excess of $20 million. In order to file false returns, the defendants obtained stolen identities from various sources. The defendants pleaded guilty on the following dates to the following charges:
- Talarius Paige, of Phenix City, AL, on March 31, to one count of conspiracy to file false claims and one count of aggravated identity theft;
- Tracy Mitchell, of Phenix City, AL, on March 30, to one count of conspiracy to file false claims, one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft;
- Latasha Mitchell, of Phenix City, AL, on March 30, to one count of conspiracy to file false claims and one count of aggravated identity theft;
- Demeisha Mitchell, of Phenix City, AL, on March 26, to one count of conspiracy to file false claims and one count of aggravated identity theft;
- Keisha Lanier, of Seale, AL, on March 5, to one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft;
- Sharondra Johnson, of Phenix City, AL, on Feb. 17, to one count of conspiracy to file false claims;
- Cynthia Johnson, of Phenix City, AL, on Dec. 17, 2014, to one count of conspiracy to file false claims; and
- Patrice Taylor, of Midland, GA, on July 18, 2014, to one count of conspiracy to file false claims.
The defendants are scheduled to be sentenced on June 30.
Mequetta Snell-Quick, another co-conspirator from Phenix City, AL, is scheduled to appear in court on April 6. In a related case, on Oct. 2, 2014, Tamika Floyd, of Salem, AL, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to file false claims and one count of aggravated identity theft and is scheduled to be sentenced on May 19.
The defendants each face a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for each count of conspiracy to file false claims, a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for each wire fraud count, and a statutory mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison for each aggravated identity theft count.
"The guilty pleas of the nine defendants who participated in this conspiracy send a clear message that the Tax Division, along with its law enforcement partners, will vigorously pursue and prosecute individuals involved at every level of these extensive criminal schemes," Acting Assistant Attorney General Ciraolo said. "The division will seek significant jail time and restitution from offenders who choose to victimize unsuspecting American taxpayers, including the dedicated men and women serving in the U.S. military, and steal from the U.S. Treasury."
"Stealing a person's identity is a horrendous crime," said U.S. Attorney Beck. "It can take months or years for a victim of identity theft to correct the damage that these criminals reaped upon him or her. But these defendants stole identities from military men and women who have volunteered to protect our country. That is inexcusable and will not be tolerated."
Tracy Mitchell worked at a military hospital located at Fort Benning, GA, and as a hospital employee, she had access to the identification data of military personnel, including soldiers who were deployed to Afghanistan. Tracy Mitchell stole soldiers' personal information and used that information to file false tax returns.
"This case is an excellent example of Army CID working shoulder-to-shoulder with our fellow law enforcement partners to protect the nation's soldiers," said Director Daniel Andrews of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command's (CID) Computer Crime Investigative Unit. "It demonstrates our vigilance against cybercrime and an unswerving commitment to dismantle criminal operations impacting the U.S. Army."
Floyd stole personal information from two Alabama state agencies and provided those names to Lanier. Lanier provided those names to Tracy Mitchell, Latasha Mitchell, Paige and others for use in filing false tax returns. Lanier also obtained stolen identities from the Alabama Department of Corrections that were then used to file false tax returns. Also, Paige and Taylor worked in a call center for a Columbus, Georgia, company and stole identities from that company. Paige, in turn, used those identities to file false tax returns and filed some of the returns from Tracy Mitchell's residence.
In order to file the false tax returns, Floyd applied for and obtained several Electronic Filing Numbers (EFINs) from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the names of sham tax businesses.
The tax refunds claimed on the false returns were paid via U.S. Treasury checks mailed to addresses under the control of participants in the scheme, prepaid debit cards issued by financial institutions, and deposits to financial institutions connected to the business EFINs so that the defendants could print refund checks.
The defendants cashed the tax refund checks at several businesses located in Alabama, Georgia and Kentucky. Sharondra Johnson worked at the Walmart money center in Columbus, Georgia, and as part of her employment, she cashed checks for customers of the money center. Demeisha Mitchell approached Sharondra Johnson about cashing tax refund checks issued in the names of other individuals. Sharondra Johnson agreed to cash these refund checks and was paid a fee for her role in the scheme.
"Taking advantage of innocent citizens, especially service members and their families, is disgraceful," said Chief Richard Weber of IRS Criminal Investigation (CI). "IRS Criminal Investigation is committed to stopping those who would prey on others by stealing their identities. As criminals continue to become more sophisticated, we will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to bring them to justice."
Acting Assistant Attorney General Ciraolo and U.S. Attorney Beck Jr. commended special agents of IRS - CI and the U.S. Army - CID, who investigated the case, and Trial Attorneys Michael C. Boteler and Gregory P. Bailey of the Tax Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd A. Brown of the Middle District of Alabama, for prosecuting the case. Ciraolo and Beck Jr. also thanked the U.S. Attorney's Office of the Middle District of Georgia for their assistance in the case.