News and Press Releases

Tuscumbia Man Charged with 2009 Bank Robbery also Charged with Tuscumbia Woman in Tax Fraud Scheme

March 30, 2011

BIRMINGHAM – A federal indictment unsealed today charges a Tuscumbia man with a 2009 armed robbery of a Colbert County bank, and a separate indictment returned today charges him and a Tuscumbia woman in a federal tax fraud conspiracy, announced U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance, IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent In Charge Reginael D. McDaniel, FBI Special Agent in Charge Patrick Maley and Colbert County Sheriff Ronnie May.

The grand jury indictment filed today in U.S. District Court charges RICKY WALTER DENTON, 46, and JOANN SMITH CHOAT, 55, with conspiring to obtain $148,685 in false federal income tax refunds through a three-year scheme that involved taking other people’s Social Security numbers and birth dates and filing false returns.

The indictment returned earlier this month and unsealed today charges Denton with robbing the First Southern Bank in Colbert County in December 2009 and with brandishing a handgun during the crime. Denton assaulted and “put in jeopardy the life of another person” by using a handgun, according to the indictment.

“Law enforcement agencies are to be commended for their cooperative work in these cases, which closed the trail on someone who threatened another person’s life to steal from a bank, and who stole the identities of people around him so that he and his co-conspirator could steal money from taxpayers,” Vance said.

“At the IRS, protecting taxpayer money is a matter we take very seriously. An integral part of the IRS mission involves detecting and stopping fraudulent tax refund claims,” McDaniel said. “Thanks to the resolve of our law enforcement partners, we were able to accomplish our mission.”

The conspiracy count in today’s tax fraud indictment charges that, from January 2007 to May 2010, Denton obtained the identifying information of others, used that information to create false tax forms and mailed those forms to Post Office boxes in Tuscumbia that Choat had opened at his request.

Choat submitted the false tax forms to the IRS, and when she received refunds on them, deposited the $148,685 in U.S. Treasury checks into her personal credit union account, according to the indictment.

The indictment also charges Denton with five counts of making false claims against the government for creating and causing false tax returns to be submitted. It charges Denton with five counts of aggravated identity fraud for using the Social Security number of another person to commit mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud.

The indictment charges Denton and Choat with five counts of mail fraud for fraudulently causing the U.S. Treasury to mail refund checks, and with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud against the Treasury Department.

Denton could face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the conspiracy and fraud charges, and a mandatory two-year sentence for aggravated identity theft, which must be served consecutive to any sentence on the mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud charges. On the robbery charge, Denton could face a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The separate charge for brandishing a weapon during the robbery carries a maximum seven-year sentence that must be served consecutive to any robbery sentence.

Choat could face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the conspiracy and fraud charges.

The IRS, FBI and the Colbert County Sheriff’s Office investigated the cases. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Russell Penfield and Mary Stuart Burrell are prosecuting them.

Members of the public are reminded that an indictment contains only charges. 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.



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