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Thursday, August 6, 2015

Arizona Woman Sentenced to Six Years Jail in Identity Theft Tax Fraud Case

U.S. Attorney Richard S. Hartunian of the Northern District of New York and Acting Special Agent in Charge Thomas E. Bishop of the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations (IRS-CI) New York Field Office announced that Elaine Monique Zavalla-Charres, 34, of Winslow, Arizona, was sentenced yesterday in federal court in Utica, New York, in connection with her convictions for mail fraud and aggravated identity theft in a case involving false federal income tax returns that resulted in the theft of over $400,000 from the IRS.  Zavala-Charres was sentenced to serve a total of 72 months in jail: 48 months for mail fraud and a consecutive term of 24 months for aggravated identity theft.  She was also sentenced to serve three years of supervised release following her release from prison and ordered to pay restitution to the IRS in the amount of $411,309.

The fraud scheme occurred in 2011 through 2013.  A co-defendant of Zavala-Charres, Lacey Hollinger, 27, of Massena, New York, contacted Massena-area residents via Facebook and other electronic media to tell them they were eligible for a tax refund, even though they were unemployed and had no income, as part of a U.S. government “stimulus program.”  No such program existed.  Several dozen responded, giving Hollinger their personal identification information (date of birth, social security number, etc.).  Hollinger forwarded this information to Zavala-Charres, who used it to create false and fraudulent tax returns that, with others obtained from Arizona residents, generated over $400,000 in tax refunds.  Zavala-Charres, Hollinger and others involved in the fraud scheme stole these funds after they were electronically deposited in bank accounts in Arizona.

The Massena-area residents never saw the tax returns, which falsely represented that they were self-employed and entitled to a refund.  Some received pre-paid debit cards that Zavala-Charres directed to them through the U.S. mail.  Many got nothing, with Zavala-Charres and Hollinger keeping most of the refund money.  On May 22, 2013, IRS-CI special agents executed a search warrant at the former residence of Zavala-Charres in Phoenix resulting in the recovery of a computer used to create and file the fraudulent tax returns and numerous other documents used in the scheme.

Co-defendant Hollinger was sentenced on May 22, 2015, to serve a term of 36 months imprisonment, three years of supervised release and restitution.

“People who use identity theft to steal money by filing fake tax returns hurt honest taxpayers and cost the United States billions of dollars,” said U.S. Attorney Hartunian.  “Cross-country crime connections cannot be allowed to evade the reach of the law.  This was a serious crime warranting significant jail sentences and full restitution.”

“The Internal Revenue Service has made the investigation of individuals who orchestrate tax refund schemes using stolen identities a top priority,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Bishop.  “The sentence that Zavala-Charres received illustrates the consequences of committing this type of crime and how seriously the government is about prosecuting it.  It will hopefully serve as a deterrent to others.”

The case was investigated by special agents of the IRS-CI Syracuse, New York, Field Office.  The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Southwick of the Northern District of New York.

Updated August 6, 2015