Eight people from the Phenix City area and one from Midland, Ga., have been indicted in a stolen identity scheme that used information from Fort Benning soldiers and others to file $20 million in fraudulent tax returns over a three-year period.
The defendants ran a large-scale identity theft ring by filing more than 7,000 tax returns between January 2011 and December 2013, U.S. Attorney George L. Beck Jr. of the Middle District of Alabama said in a statement released Thursday. The stolen identities used to file false returns came from Martin Army Community Hospital at Fort Benning, the Alabama Department of Corrections and a call center in Columbus.
“To steal the identity of a soldier serving his/her country is the lowest form of thievery,” Beck said. “If a soldier serving his country is not safe from identify theft, then none of us are safe from this crime. We will continue our efforts to stamp out this crime.”
The defendants were identified as Tracy Mitchell, Dameisha Mitchell, Latasha Mitchell, Sharondra Johnson, Cynthia Johnson, Mequetta Snell-Quick and Talarious Paige, all of Phenix City; Keisha Lanier of Seale, Ala.; and Patrice Taylor of Midland. In addition to the conspiracy charge, the defendants are charged with mail and wire fraud, access device fraud and aggravated identity theft.
Mitchell worked at the post hospital and had access to identification data of military personnel, including soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Mitchell and her daughter, Latasha Mitchell, also are accused of obtaining stolen identities from the Alabama Department of Corrections. Paige and Taylor worked in a call center in Columbus where identities were stolen.
The release states that Paige sold the identities used by Tracy Mitchell, Keisha Lanier and others to file false tax returns.
If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum potential sentence of 10 years in prison on 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. Each is also subject to fines, forfeiture and mandatory restitution.
The indictment states the defendants obtained several electronic filing numbers in the names of sham tax businesses and applied for bank products from various financial institutions, which mailed blank check stock to the defendants’ homes.
The sham tax businesses and stolen identities were used to file false tax returns. Anticipated tax refunds were directed to prepaid debit cards, U.S. Treasury checks and financial institutions, which in turn issued the refunds by checks or prepaid debit cards.
The fraudulent checks were cashed at several businesses in Alabama, Georgia and Kentucky.
Veronica F. Hyman-Pillot, special agent in charge with Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, said identifying, investigating and vigorously prosecuting individuals involved in tax-related identity theft schemes remain a top priority.
“These indictments and arrests are just a sample of what is to come as we join forces with our law enforcement partners and the United States Attorney’s Office to put an end to identity theft,” she said.
The case was investigated by the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation and the Computer Crimes Investigative Unit of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command. The prosecutors are attorney Michael Boteler of the Department’s Tax Division and Todd Brown, an assistant U.S. attorney in Alabama.