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Guilty pleas in Florida identity theft and tax refund fraud case

Authorities in Florida continue to actively pursue financial crimes of all kinds. They are being helped in many ways by federal agencies. The collaboration between state and federal officials often yields more information and more successful investigations than working at either level alone. Still, each year there are a significant number of tax evasion and related crimes, such as was the case in a recent Miami-based scheme.

In the scheme, which involved 1,747 fraudulent claims filed by 14 different people, a grand total of $7 million worth of tax refunds were sought. One of the men got $544,054 from the Internal Revenue Service, while others got $44, 608. To get that money, the men used the names of both deceased individuals and unwitting victims. They then established bank accounts in the names of those people, along with Electronic Filing Identification Numbers and businesses.

Fraudulent income tax returns were filed using stolen identity theft information. When the men got refund checks with that money, they deposited them into the bank accounts they had set up. They also cashed checks through one another's businesses, all allegedly in an effort to avoid detection by law enforcement.

Charges against three key defendants in the case include aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to defraud the government. The three pleaded guilty and currently face sentences of up to seven years each. Their sentences will formally be determined in April.

In this case, the sheer volume of claims and the monetary amount involved make it newsworthy. However, it is important to remember that just because someone is arrested does not mean they are automatically guilty. The prosecution must prove guilt in court beyond a reasonable doubt.

Source: By Wayne K. Roustan, "Three plead guilty to income tax refund fraud, ID theft" Sun Sentinel, Jan. 17, 2014

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