Fort Benning

Eight plead guilty in $20 million tax fraud scheme

Seven Phenix City area residents and a Midland woman have pleaded guilty for their roles in a $20 million tax fraud scheme that used information from Fort Benning soldiers and others to file $20 million in fraudulent tax returns over a three-year period, U.S. Attorney George Beck of the Middle District of Alabama said in a release.

Talarius Page, Tracy Mitchell, Latasha Mitchell and Demeisha Mitchell, all of Phenix City, pleaded guilty March 26 through Tuesday to one count each of conspiracy to file false claims and aggravated identity theft. Tracy Mitchell also pleaded to one count of wire fraud. Sharondra Johnson and Cynthia Johnson, both of Phenix City, and Patrice Taylor of Midland pleaded to one count of conspiracy to file false claims while Keisha Lanier of Seale, Ala., pleaded to one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.

The Johnsons pleaded on Dec. 17 and Feb. 17, but Taylor was among the first to plead on July 18. Their sentencing is set for June 30.

Tamika Floyd of Salem, Ala., pleaded guilty to conspiracy to file false claims and aggravated identity theft on Oct. 2 and will be sentenced on May 19. Mequetta Snell-Quick, a co-conspirator with the eight defendants, is scheduled to appear in court on Monday.

Each of the defendants face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for each count of conspiracy to file false claims, 20 years in prison for each wire fraud count and a minimum sentence of two years in prison for each aggravated identity theft count.

The guilty pleas of defendants who took part in the conspiracy send a clear message that the Tax Division and partners in law enforcement will vigorously pursue and prosecute individuals at every level of such criminal schemes, said Acting Assistant Attorney General Caroline D. Ciraolo of the Justice Department’s Tax Division.

“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,” Ciraolo said.

Court records show the defendants filed more than 7,000 false tax returns in excess of $20 million between January 2011 and December 2013. Tracy Mitchell worked at Fort Benning’s Martin Army Community Hospital and had access to identification data of military personnel, including soldiers deployed to Afghanistan. Stolen information was used to file false tax returns.

Beck said stealing a person’s identity is a horrendous crime. “It can take months or years for a victim of identity theft to correct the damage that these criminals reaped upon him or her,” he said. “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.”

Floyd stole personal information from two Alabama agencies and the names were given to Lanier. Tracy Mitchell, Latasha Mitchell, Paige and others were provided names from Lanier. Authorities said Lanier also obtained names from the Alabama Department of Corrections in the scheme. Paige and Taylor worked at a call center in Columbus where identities were stolen and Paige used them to file false returns. Some returns were filed from Tracy Mitchell’s home.

Sharondra Johnson and her mother, Cynthia Johnson, worked at Walmart in Columbus. Floyd obtained several electronic filing numbers from the Internal Revenue Service in the name of sham tax businesses to file false returns. The U.S. Treasury mailed checks to addresses under the control of those in the scheme to prepaid debit cards and deposits to financial institutions connected to filing numbers, which allowed defendants to print refund checks.

Checks were cashed in Alabama, Georgia and Kentucky. While employed at the money center at Wal-Mart, Sharondra Johnson cashed checks for customers. Demeisha Mitchell approached Sharondra Johnson about cashing checks in the names of other individuals and she agreed. She was paid a fee for her role.

Court documents show that $329,242 was seized from Tracy Mitchell’s home at 106 Richburg St. in Phenix City on Dec. 17. Authorities commended the efforts of the IRS and the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division for investigating the case along with attorneys Michael C. Boteler and Gregory P. Bailey of the Tax Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd A. Brown for prosecuting the case.