News and Press Releases

Five sent to prison for roles in tax theft scheme involving identities of dead people

June 1, 2012


Fahim Suleiman and Muuad Salem were sentenced to prison today for their roles in a $1.7 million scheme to defraud the United States by obtaining false and fraudulent U.S. Treasury tax refund checks using the identities of deceased people, the Justice Department and Internal Revenue Service announced.

Five people were sentenced to prison this week by U.S. District Judge James S. Gwin, including Suleiman and Salem, for their roles in the scheme.

Suleiman was sentenced to more than five years in prison and Salem to more than two years in prison for participating in a conspiracy with others to file false United States income tax returns using personal identifying information, including names and Social Security numbers, of deceased taxpayers in order to obtain false tax refund checks that were subsequently sold and negotiated, according to court documents.

Judge Gwin previously sentenced three co-conspirators this week.

On May 29, 2012, Najeh Widdi was sentenced to three years in prison. Hanan Widdi and Hazem Woodi were sentenced on May 30, 2012, to prison terms of 21 months and 18 months, respectively.

Judge Gwin ordered all five defendants to pay, jointly and severally, $177,744 in restitution to the IRS as part of their sentences.

Each of the defendants entered guilty pleas on March 13, 2012.

Salem, 33, of Akron, Najeh Widdi, 45, of Cleveland and Woodi, 31, of North Olmsted, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to commit mail fraud, and one count of mail fraud; Hanan Widdi, 38, of Cleveland, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to commit mail fraud; and Suleiman, 46, of Lutz, Florida, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to commit mail fraud, three counts of mail fraud, and one count of aggravated identity theft.

Defendant Daxesj Patel, 35, of Canton, Ohio, also pleaded guilty on March 13, 2012 to two counts of submitting false claims for refund and one count of false statements.

Patel is scheduled to be sentenced on June 8, 2012 by Judge Gwin.

 “The Justice Department is working closely with the IRS investigate and prosecute stolen identity refund fraud crimes,” said Assistant Attorney General Kathryn Keneally of the Justice Department’s Tax Division.  “The sentences handed down in this and other cases show that identity thieves will pay a high price for their crimes.”

“The theft of anyone’s identity is a serious offense, but stealing the identities of the recently departed to defraud all the other taxpayers is particularly egregious,” said Steven M. Dettelbach, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio. “These sentences should cause anyone who would engage in this conduct to reconsider.”

“Individuals who commit refund fraud and identity theft of this magnitude deserve to be punished to the fullest extent of the law,” stated Richard Weber, Chief, IRS Criminal Investigation. “We, along with our law enforcement partners and the United States Attorney's Office, continue to do our part in protecting the sanctity and integrity of the tax system and those individuals whose identities were stolen, as well as a monetary loss against the U.S. Treasury.”

From 2009 to at least August 2011, Najeh Widdi, Hanan Widdi, Hazem Woodi, Muaad Salem, Fahim Suleiman, Daxesj Patel and other unnamed co-conspirators defrauded the United States by filing false and fraudulent tax returns, many in the names of recently deceased taxpayers, according to court documents.

The co-conspirators directed the refunds to controlled locations in Florida. The U.S. Treasury checks generated by the false tax returns were sent by U.S. mail to co-conspirators located in Ohio. The Ohio co-conspirators then sold and distributed those Treasury checks for negotiation at various businesses and banking institutions, according to court documents.

The IRS estimated that the scheme involved at least $1.7 million in fraudulently obtained tax returns.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Gary D. Arbeznik and Trial Attorney Jessica W. Knight of the Tax Division, presently on detail to a U.S. Attorney’s Office in Ohio. The investigation was jointly handled by the Cleveland Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, and the United States Postal Service.


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