MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan had no idea that one of the enemies they would have to fight would be thousands of miles away from them, not on war-torn foreign soil, but right at home.
The U.S. Department of Justice says nine women have been indicted and charged for their alleged roles in a $20 million stolen identity refund fraud conspiracy. The indictments show that identities were stolen from places like Fort Benning, as well as various Alabama State agencies and a call center.
"To steal the identity of a soldier serving his/her country is the lowest form of thievery," U.S. Attorney George Beck said. "If a soldier serving his country is not safe from identity theft, then none of us are safe from this crime. We will continue our efforts to stamp out this crime."
The women at the center of the investigation are identified as Tracy Mitchell, Dameisha Mitchell, Latasha Mitchell, Sharondra Johnson, Cynthia Johnson, Mequetta Snell-Quick and Talarious Paige, all from Phenix City, Alabama, as well as Keisha Lanier, of Seale, Alabama, and Patrice Taylor, of Midland, Georgia.
The indictment indicates that the women ran a large-scale ID theft ring between January 2011 and December 2013 during which time they filed more than 7,000 false tax returns that claimed more than $20 million.
Authorities say the woman stole identities from numerous places. Tracy Mitchell, for example, worked at the hospital at Fort Benning, Georgia, where she had access to military personnel data, including that of soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Authorities also claim that Tracy Mitchell and her co-indicted daughter, Latasha Mitchell, obtained stolen identities from an Alabama state agency, that Keisha Lanier obtained stolen identities from the Alabama Department of Corrections, that Talarious Paige and Patrice Taylor worked in a call center for a Columbus, Georgia company and stole identities and that Paige, in turn, sold those identities and they were used by Tracy Mitchell, Keisha Lanier, and others to file false tax returns.
"The problem with identity theft is that the victims don't know they have been subjected to the crime until well after the fact," said U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, Michael Moore. "The prosecution of this case resulted from the great work of the U.S. Attorney in Montgomery and the Tax Division. I hope it sends a message to both our soldiers and to those who try to take advantage of them – while you are protecting us from bad guys abroad, we will be protecting you from the bad guys at home."
In addition to the conspiracy charge, the defendants are also charged with mail and wire fraud, access device fraud, and aggravated identity theft.
If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum potential sentence of 10 years in prison for the conspiracy charge, a maximum potential sentence of 20 years in prison for each wire and mail fraud count, a maximum potential sentence of 15 years in prison for each access device fraud count, and a mandatory two-year sentence for each aggravated identity theft count. They could also be subject to fines and other restitution.