MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - As of Wednesday, Eight Alabama and Georgia residents have pleaded guilty for their roles in a $20 million income tax refund fraud conspiracy, according to United States Attorney General of the Middle District of Alabama, George L. Beck, Jr and acting Assistant Attorney General Caroline D. Ciraolo of the Justice Department's Tax Division.
In 2014, nine women were arrested and charged in connection to the conspiracy, eight of which were from the state of Alabama. They are accused of stealing peoples' identities and filing fraudulent income tax returns in their names.
The defendants pleaded guilty on the following dates to the following charges:
Another co-conspirator, Mequetta Snell-Quick of Phenix City, is scheduled to appear in court on April 6. The defendants are scheduled to be sentenced on June 30.
In a related case, Tamika Floyd, of Salem, pleaded guilty on Oct. 2, 2014 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 ten 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," Ciraolo said in a statement. "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."
According to court documents, between Jan., 2011 and Dec., 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 the false returns, the defendants obtained stolen identities from various sources including members of the United States Army, various Alabama state agencies and a Georgia Call Center.
Tracy Mitchell worked at a military hospital located at Fort Benning, Georgia, and as an employee of the hospital, she had access to the identification data of military personnel, which included soldiers who were deployed to Afghanistan. Mitchell stole soldiers' information and used that 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 Computer Crime Investigative Unit. "It demonstrates our vigilance against cybercrime and an unswerving commitment to dismantle criminal operations impacting the U.S. Army."
Tamika Floyd stole personal information from two Alabama state agencies and provided those names to Keisha Lanier, according to court documents. Lanier then provided those names to Tracy Mitchell, Latasha Mitchell, Talarius Paige and others to be used in filing false tax returns.
Court documents say that Lanier also obtained stolen identities from the Alabama Department of Corrections that were then used to file false tax returns.
Paige and Patrice Taylor reportedly worked in a call center for a company based out of Columbus, GA., and stole identities from that company. Paige then 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 returns, Floyd applied for and obtained several Electronic Filing Numbers from the IRS in the names of fake tax businesses. The refunds claimed on the false returns were paid via U.S. Treasury checks mailed to addresses under the control of participants in the scam, prepaid debit cards issued by financial institutions and deposits to financial institutions connected to the business Electronic Filing Numbers so that the defendants could print refund checks.
According to court documents, the defendants then cashed the refund checks at several businesses located in Alabama, Georgia and Kentucky. Sharondra Johnson worked at the Walmart money center in Columbus, GA., and as a part of her employment, she cashed checks for customers.
Johnson was allegedly approached by Demeisha Mitchell about cashing some of the refund checks issued in the names of other individuals. Johnson reportedly agreed to cash the 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. "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."