Feds Target Stolen Identity Tax Refund Fraud
Nine people have been charged or arrested in the last three weeks
ATLANTA – The Internal Revenue Service began accepting tax returns for the 2012 tax year only two days ago, but the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Criminal Investigation Division of the IRS, and other law enforcement partners are already in full swing investigating and prosecuting stolen identity tax refund fraud.
United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said, “Identity theft is a crime that can take many forms, all of which take a financial and emotional toll on its victims. But stealing someone’s identity – their name, date of birth, or social security number – for the purpose of filing a fraudulent tax return, causes even greater harm because it can significantly delay the victim from receiving his or her legitimate tax refund, and it costs the Treasury millions of dollars in lost revenue every year. The investigation and prosecution of tax-related identity theft during this tax filing season is a priority in this district.”
“Identity theft is a despicable crime that victimizes honest taxpayers and causes immense hardship,” said Veronica Hyman-Pillot, IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge. “Identifying, investigating and vigorously prosecuting those individuals involved in tax-related identity theft schemes remains a top priority for IRS Criminal Investigation. The recent 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.”
In the last three weeks alone, federal prosecutors in Atlanta have charged or arrested 9 people with stolen identity tax refund fraud, and executed two search warrants:
- Today, Kevin Joseph Sonnier, 44, of Ellenwood, Georgia, and Bernardo Davis, 26, of Morrow, Georgia, were arrested on a criminal complaint charging them with wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and conspiracy to defraud the government. According to the criminal complaint, Sonnier and Davis filed over 15,000 false tax returns from 2011 to 2012 that claimed over $15 million in bogus refunds. Sonnier and Davis used the names and social security numbers of thousands of unsuspecting victims to claim fraudulent refunds from the government. They obtained some of these names and social security numbers through the use of a website and advertisements that touted the availability of an “Obama stimulus payment” and provided a toll-free number. However, no stimulus payment actually existed and Sonnier and Davis instead used the victims' personal information to file thousands of false tax returns that claimed millions of dollars in bogus refunds.
In conjunction with the arrest of Sonnier and Davis, today federal agents searched two locations, including 2295 Lake Harbin Road, Morrow, Georgia, where it is believed a business named "Sonnier Tax Service" has operated, and Kevin Sonnier's primary residence in Ellenwood, Georgia. Assistant United States Attorneys Stephen H. McClain and Thomas J. Krepp are prosecuting the case.
- On January 29, 2013, Jarred Ryan Corker, 26, of Marietta, Georgia, was arrested on a charge of theft of government property arising from his possession of debit cards containing fraudulently obtained tax refunds. According to the criminal complaint, Atlanta Police Department officers found a stack of 21 Visa debit cards issued by TurboTax and approximately $7,100 in cash in Corker’s possession during a traffic stop. The criminal complaint charges that the TurboTax debit cards were loaded with tax refunds issued by the IRS based on fraudulently filed 2011 federal tax returns. In total, 97 fraudulently filed tax returns were identified as part of the scheme with an intended tax loss to the IRS of over $290,000. Assistant United States Attorney Nathan Kitchens is prosecuting the case.
- On January 28, 2013, Frederick Roberts, 51, of Atlanta, Georgia, was arrested on a federal indictment for filing false tax returns with the IRS. Roberts was charged with three counts of mail fraud, three counts of aggravated identity theft, and three counts of filing a false claim against the United States. According to the indictment, Roberts filed false tax returns with the IRS seeking refunds in the names of other people whose identities were stolen, and then falsely listed as the taxpayer’s address his own address or an address from which he could retrieve mail so that he would be able to receive the requested refund check. Assistant United States Attorney Christopher Bly is prosecuting the case.
- In November 2012, a federal grand jury indicted eight individuals for conspiring to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft stemming from their use of stolen personal identification information to file hundreds of false federal income tax returns using online tax filing websites, and directed tax refunds to fictitious business bank accounts established to further the scheme. The indictment remained sealed until January 18, 2013, to allow law enforcement the opportunity to locate the defendants. The defendants are charged with conspiring to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. Those indicted include Marcus Behling, 29, of Powder Springs, Georgia; Charlie Brewer, 24, of Mableton, Georgia; Nyron Nelson, 37, of Marietta, Georgia; Maurice Pollock, 31, of Austell, Georgia; Shawn Lavon Brown, 36, of Atlanta, Georgia; Christopher Edwards, 41, of Tucker, Georgia; Tasha Ellis, 32, of Atlanta, Georgia; and Kelly Sue Lonas, 38, of Marietta, Georgia. On January 18, 2013, all the defendants except Brown, Ellis, Lonas and Edwards were arrested. Brown, Ellis and Lonas were arrested in 2012. Christopher Edwards remains at large. Assistant United States Attorney Jeffrey Brown is prosecuting the case.
- On January 15, 2013, Amechi Igabari, 25, of Marietta, Georgia was indicted on charges of theft of government funds and aggravated identity theft. According to the indictment, which was unsealed this week, Igabari possessed or used the identities of at least 15 victims whose social security numbers were used to file false tax returns that claimed bogus refunds. To date, law enforcement has been unable to locate Igabari and arrest him. Anyone with information about his whereabouts is asked to call (404) 338-7533. Assistant United States Attorney Thomas J. Krepp is prosecuting the case.
Members of the public are reminded that criminal complaints and indictments contain only allegations. A defendant is presumed innocent of the charges and it will be the government's burden to prove a defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.
These cases are being investigated by Special Agents of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation. If you believe you may be a victim of tax return-related identity theft please contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490, extension 245 (Mon. - Fri., 7 a.m. - 7 p.m. local time).
For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Information Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the HomePage for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Georgia is www.justice.gov/usao/gan.