Montgomery Woman Pleads Sentenced to 10 Years in Prison for Identity Fraud – Tax Refund Scam
Montgomery, Alabama - Rhashema Deramus, 23 of Montgomery, Alabama was sentenced today to 10 years in prison for her part in an identity theft/tax refund scam, announced U.S. Attorney George L. Beck, Jr.. Deramus and those working for her stole people’s identities and used those stolen identities to file fraudulent tax returns and obtain tax refunds that were not owed to them. As part of her sentence, United States District Judge Mark E. Fuller ordered Deramus to pay $1,198,063 in restitution.
On August 29, 2012, Deramus pled guilty to theft of government money, fraudulent use of debit cards, and aggravated identity theft all related to filing fraudulent tax returns. Deramus was the leader of a ring of individuals who stole people’s names, dates of birth and social security numbers. 881 of these identities were stolen from the Troy Regional Medical Center. Deramus used these stolen information to file fraudulent tax returns. Deramus then directed the fraudulently-obtained tax refunds generated from these tax filings to be placed on pre-paid debit cards. Deramus, and others at her direction, took those debit cards and cashed them out at various ATMs. When she received the money from the tax refunds, she spent it on herself; admitting that her sole source of income during this period was illegally obtained tax refunds.
In March 2011, as a result of numerous suspicious withdrawals from local ATMs, law enforcement agents ultimately identified a vehicle associated with those withdrawals. During a traffic stop of that vehicle, which was occupied Rhashema Deramus and two other members of her ring and which had been stolen, officers found 165 prepaid debit cards issued in other people’s names. Other items, including a computer, containing stolen personal identifying information were also located in the vehicle. Agents then obtained a search warrant for Deramus’ residence and during the execution of that warrant, agents located 276 more debit cards, computers, and thousands of pieces of personal information belonging to other people. Later, in November 2011, agents discovered another 88 prepaid debit cards in Deramus’ possession. Ultimately, the investigation revealed Deramus’ ring possessed, at a minimum, 520 prepaid debit cards, on which $1,198,063 in fraudulently-obtained tax refunds had been placed, and over 7,000 stolen names and personal identifiers of other people.
At the sentencing hearing, one of the victims, testified that he lost his defense contracting job, making around $100,000 a year, as a result of financial problems from the theft and misuse of his personal information. Items containing his personal information were located during the execution of the search warrant at Deramus’ residence, along with thousands of other stolen identities. This victim’s financial issues severely impacted his credit and as a result his security clearance was suspended, and later revoked. Because his security clearance was suspended, he lost his job as a defense contractor. Further, as a member of the Air National Guard, his military duties and hours have been scaled back because of his security clearance issues. He now works at a fast food restaurant and teaches computer classes part-time at a technical college. The lack of income has severely affected his family; for example, his wife had to quit nursing school. His children have also suffered from these financial problems. Two Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office employees also testified that they had been financially impacted by the theft and use of the personal information of their children.
Additionally, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Troy Regional Medical Center testified at Deramus’ sentencing hearing. She told the Court that a contract employee, Angeline Austin, had access to all of Troy Medical Center’s patients’ information. Austin was a member of Deramus’ ring and was sentenced earlier this year to 65 months in federal prison for stealing personal information of Troy Medical Center patients and providing them to Deramus and her ring. The CEO further explained to Judge Fuller that Troy Medical Center has been operating at a loss for years and that the hospital was very concerned that it may be fined over $1.5 million dollars for violations of Federal and State of Alabama health care privacy laws stemming from Austin stealing the patients’ identities and providing them for use by Deramus’ ring. This fine could severely impact the capability to operate the only hospital in Troy.
“This sentence show the government’s commitment to stopping those criminals who attempt to profit from stealing people’s identity,” stated U.S. Attorney Beck. “In order to stop these scammers, we must all work together to protect the identities, to investigate those that steal the identities and to vigorously prosecute those scammers. This office will not let up on these thieves. We will continue to vigorous prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.”
“The sentencing of Ms. Deramus is the result of a concerted effort by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigative Division, Local and State law enforcement and the U.S. Secret Service to vigorously investigate and prosecute federal tax fraud involving identity theft, stated Clayton Slay, Resident Agent in Charge of the U.S. Secret Service in Montgomery, Alabama. “Deramus was the mastermind behind this scheme which not only costs the U.S. Government, but also local retailers and business who negotiated the fraudulently obtained checks, over 1.5 million dollars . The biggest tragedy though are the approximately 7,000 victims whose lives have been turned upside down through the theft of their personal identifiers and the effect it has on their credit history and ability to file a legitimate tax return. Hopefully, the sentencing of Deramus and other defendants in this case will serve as a warning sign to other individuals involved in any type of identity theft. The U.S. Secret Service, along with the IRS criminal investigators, will remain proactive in the investigation of individuals and groups associated with these types of crimes.”
"This sentence is a message to others that there are consequences for stealing and using other individual's personal identifying information”, stated Veronica Hyman-Pillot, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation. "Individuals cannot fraudulently enrich their bank accounts at the expense of the United States Treasury and other taxpayers."
This case was investigated by the United States Secret Service, Internal Revenue Service, and the Montgomery Police Department, with the help of the United States Marshal’s Service. Assistant United States Attorney Todd Brown prosecuted the case.
PRESS CONTACT: Clark Morris
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