TWO PLEAD GUILTY TO PRETEXTING IN “OPERATION DIALING FOR DOLLARS”
Defendants Admit Adopting Various Identities to Get Confidential Tax, Medical and Employment Info
A Belfair, Washington, couple, EMILIO TORRELLA, 36, and BRANDY N. TORRELLA, 27, pleaded guilty yesterday in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud, Wire Fraud, and Aggravated Identity Theft. The two were key players in a group of ten private investigators across the country indicted in December 2007, by a federal grand jury in Seattle in connection with a scheme to illegally obtain confidential information on thousands of citizens. To obtain confidential tax, medical and employment information, workers at the TORRELLA’s company, BNT Investigations, would pose as another individual to get government agencies, including the IRS, the Social Security Administration, and various state employment security offices to provide confidential information. The year-long investigation dubbed, “Operation Dialing for Dollars,” also revealed that some workers posed as representatives of doctors’ offices to get medical or pharmacy records.
By entering a guilty plea to Aggravated Identity Theft, each of the defendants faces a mandatory minimum two years in prison consecutive to the sentence for the Wire Fraud and Conspiracy counts.
According to documents filed in the case, private investigators across the country gave the TORRELLAs the names, addresses, social security numbers and other personally identifying information of people they had been hired to investigate. The subjects of the investigation had not given permission for their personal information to be disseminated to the TORRELLAs. Using that information, the TORRELLAs, and their employees, would call various government agencies, financial institutions, pharmacies and hospitals, posing as other people, and asking for their personal records. Between 2005 and 2007, the TORRELLAs admit in their plea agreements that their firm used pretexting to get information on 1,800 people nationwide.
The private investigators had been hired by attorneys, insurance companies and collection agencies to investigate the backgrounds of opposing parties, witnesses and benefit claimants, and to uncover assets or income. The TORRELLAs promoted their services to the private investigators.
The TORRELLAs and their employees used a variety of strategies to trick the government agencies and other institutions to provide them information they wanted. With the IRS they would impersonate the taxpayer and ask for past tax returns, claiming that a bookkeeper was being investigated for embezzlement. On other occasions they would similarly claim to be the taxpayer, in the hospital awaiting surgery, and needing the tax returns to demonstrate to the hospital that they could pay for the services. The Defendants admitted that BRANDY TORRELLA would call pharmacies, posing as the representative of an individual’s doctor’s office, and trick the pharmacies into disclosing medications being prescribed to the individual. The TORRELLAs then forwarded all the information they obtained to the private investigators for fees ranging from $30 to $300 per record.
The case is being investigated by the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General (SSA-OIG), the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General (DOL-OIG), and the Washington State Employment Security Department Office of Special Investigations.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Katheryn Kim Frierson and Tessa Gorman.
For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110.