NEWARK – One of the nation’s largest and longest running stolen identity tax refund fraud schemes – involving more than 8,000 fraudulent U.S. income tax returns seeking $65 million in illicit refunds – has been shut down by a New Jersey-based task force, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced today.
Fourteen people are charged in five criminal complaints with conspiracy to defraud the United States and substantive counts of theft of government property, which resulted in $11.3 million in losses. They were arrested this morning as part of a coordinated investigation by a New Jersey-based task force that includes IRS-Criminal Investigation and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
Ten of the defendants will make their initial appearances before U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph A. Dickson this afternoon in Newark federal court while other defendants will be making their appearances in out-of-state federal courts: one in Manhattan; one in Grand Rapids, Michigan; and one in Greensboro, N.C. One defendant is already in custody in Texas on unrelated charges.
“The defendants in this case allegedly tried to steal $65 million using stolen identities to obtain refunds to which they were not entitled,” Fishman said. “No matter how sophisticated, these crimes are pure theft. They victimize all members of the public, especially those whose identities are stolen.”
“These types of tax fraud schemes have been around for many years,” U.S. Postal Inspection Service Inspector in Charge Phillip R. Bartlett said. “The Postal Inspection Service noted a significant increase in tax refund fraud schemes approximately three years ago and formed the New Jersey Financial Crimes Task Force in an effort to identify, disrupt and dismantle organized groups engaged in these schemes.”
“Using stolen identities to file fraudulent tax returns seeking bogus refunds is a serious crime that we do not take lightly at the IRS,” Richard Weber, chief, IRS-Criminal Investigation, said. “The refund fraud alleged in today’s complaints was highly organized and relied on many willing accomplices. IRS-Criminal Investigation has made investigating refund fraud and identity theft a top priority and we will relentlessly pursue those who attempt to undermine the integrity of our tax system.”
Members of the New Jersey Task Force identified certain “hot spots” of activity related to the scheme, where conspirators were directing millions of dollars worth of refund checks to just a few towns and cities in and around New Jersey. The task force members interacted with U.S. Postal Service employees in these hot spots, and more than $22 million worth of refund checks – fraudulently applied for – were interdicted by law enforcement officers.
The charges and allegations contained in the complaints are merely accusations, and the defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.