Georgia Couple Sentenced to Prison in a Stolen Identity Tax Refund Fraud Scheme Involving IRS “Get Transcript” Database
An Austell, Georgia, couple was sentenced to prison for their role in a stolen identity tax refund fraud scheme, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Caroline D. Ciraolo of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney John A. Horn of the Northern District of Georgia.
On July 27, U.S. District Chief Judge Thomas W. Thrash Jr. for the Northern District of Georgia, sentenced Anthony Alika, 42, to serve 80 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release and Sonia Alika, 27, to serve 21 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. District Chief Judge Thrash ordered Anthony Alika and Sonia Alika to pay $1,963,251.75 and $245,790.08 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), respectively. In April, Anthony Alika pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and Sonia Alika pleaded guilty to one count of illegal structuring of cash withdrawals to evade bank reporting requirements.
“Anthony and Sonia Alika, driven by greed and a fast buck, lined their pockets by laundering more than $1 million stolen from the U.S. Treasury in the form of fraudulent income tax returns filed using data illegally obtained from the IRS Get Transcript database,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Ciraolo. “The sentences imposed today send a clear message to those pursuing similar criminal schemes. The department, working with the IRS and its other law enforcement partners, will aggressively prosecute and seek substantial prison terms for individuals who engage in stolen identity refund fraud.”
“This fraud conspiracy featured a literal highlight reel of our current economic crime threats, including cyber intrusions, identity theft, phony tax returns and money laundering, all to the order of millions of dollars,” said U.S. Attorney Horn. “These schemes create nightmares for citizens who endure the process of repairing their credit and IRS returns, and this case reflects law enforcement’s commitment to punish these criminals and do all we can to prevent further victims.”
“Today’s sentencing of Anthony Alika and Sonia Alika is a victory for the many American taxpayers who have been victims of sophisticated stolen identity refund fraud schemes,” said Chief Richard Weber of IRS Criminal Investigation. “The Alikas demonstrated a blatant disregard for the integrity of the U.S. tax system and caused immeasurable hardship to innocent victims. We continue to work hard to protect the sanctity and integrity of the tax system while working for justice for those individuals whose identities were stolen.”
In January, Anthony Alika and Sonia Alika were charged with laundering the proceeds from their stolen identity refund fraud scheme. The indictment alleged that Anthony Alika, along with Rapheal Atebefia, 33, of Austell, were members of a conspiracy which obtained means of identification of actual individuals, including their names and social security numbers and used this information to access the IRS’s “Get Transcript” database. The indictment further alleged that Anthony Alika, Atebefia and others obtained prepaid debit cards from stores located in multiple states, registered the cards in the names of the stolen identities, filed false income tax returns using the stolen identities and information obtained from the Get Transcript database and directed the IRS to deposit the tax refunds onto these cards. Get Transcript is an online service the IRS offers to allow taxpayers to order copies of their past tax returns. To conceal their fraud, Anthony Alika, Atebefia and others were alleged to have used the prepaid debit cards to purchase money orders which were subsequently deposited into bank accounts. The Alikas and Atefibia then structured cash withdrawals of the proceeds in order to prevent the bank from filing Currency Transaction Reports (CTRs).
As part of his guilty plea, Anthony Alika admitted that during 2015, he received money orders from several individuals and deposited them into bank accounts in his and his wife’s name. Anthony Alika structured the cash withdrawals from his bank accounts in amounts less than $10,000 to evade the bank reporting requirements. Anthony Alika admitted that the funds used to purchase the money orders were the proceeds of illegal activity, including the filing of fraudulent tax returns using stolen identities. Anthony Alika admitted that he laundered over $1.5 million. Sonia Alika admitted as part of her guilty plea that between February and June 2015, she withdrew more than $250,000 from multiple bank accounts she controlled in amounts less than $10,000 to prevent the bank from filing CTRs.
On June 22, Atebefia was sentenced to serve 15 months in prison followed by three years’ supervised release for his role in the scheme.
Many tax fraudsters depend for their success on filing a fraudulent return with a stolen identity before their victims file their genuine returns. Filing early and avoiding use of obvious usernames and passwords for online tax websites are two ways to help protect yourself.
Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Ciraolo and U.S. Attorney Horn commended special agents of IRS-Criminal Investigation and the U.S. Postal Service, who investigated the case and Trial Attorneys Michael C. Boteler and Charles M. Edgar, Jr. of the Tax Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Pearce, who are prosecuting this case.
Additional information about the Tax Division and its enforcement efforts may be found on the division’s website.