Six Charged in Scheme to Use Identities of Deceased People to Get Tax Refunds
A 10-count indictment was unsealed today charging six people with various offenses related to a scheme to defraud the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of at least $1.7 million in fraudulently obtained tax returns, often filed in the names of recently deceased taxpayers, the Justice Department and IRS announced today.
According to the indictment, between April 15, 2009, to at least August 2011, Muaad Salem, Fahim Sulieman, Hanan Widdi, Najeh Widdi, Hazem Woodi and Daxesj Patel and other unknown co-conspirators allegedly defrauded the United States by filing false and fraudulent tax returns, many in the names of recently deceased taxpayers, and directing refunds to controlled locations in the state of Florida.
The indictment further alleges that the U.S. Treasury checks generated by the false and fraudulent returns would then be sent by the U.S. mail to co-conspirators in Ohio who would sell and distribute the checks for negotiation at various businesses and banking institutions.
“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.
“Identity theft that leads to tax fraud threatens both individual U.S. citizens and the U.S. government,” said John A. DiCicco, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department's Tax Division. “The Justice Department and the IRS will continue to cooperate in investigating and prosecuting these crimes to the fullest extent of the law. In our technology-driven society, this simply must be a top priority.”
The following individuals were charged with conspiracies to defraud the United States and to commit mail fraud:
Muaad Salem, age 33, of Akron, Ohio;
Hazem Woodi, age 31, of North Olmsted, Ohio;
Najeh Widdi, age 45, of Cleveland;
Fahim Suleiman, age 46, of Lutz, Fla.;
Daxesj Patel, age 35, of Canton, Ohio; and
Hanan Widdi, age 38, of Cleveland.
The six are also charged with three counts of mail fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft. In addition to the other charges, Patel is separately charged with two counts of making a false claim against the United States and with making a false statement to law enforcement officials investigating the crimes.
“The IRS is aggressively pursuing those who steal others’ identities in order to file false returns,” said Steven Miller, IRS Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement. “Our cooperative work with the U.S. Attorney’s Office will help protect taxpayers in Northern Ohio from being victimized by identity theft. The IRS is taking additional steps this tax season to further prevent, detect and resolve identity theft cases as soon as possible.”
“This case is an example of the FBI and IRS working together to aggressively pursue and investigate those organized criminal enterprises that commit identity theft and fraudulent activities in the United States costing the taxpayers of this country millions of dollars,” said Stephen D. Anthony, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Cleveland office.
“IRS Criminal Investigation has made investigating refund fraud and identity theft a top priority,” stated Darryl Williams, Special Agent in Charge, IRS-Criminal Investigation, Cincinnati Field Office. “Filing fraudulent tax returns in the names of other individuals may result in significant harm to those individuals whose identities were stolen, as well as a monetary loss against the U.S. Treasury.”
Mail fraud is punishable by a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; conspiracy to defraud the United States is punishable by a maximum sentence of 10 years; conspiracy to commit mail fraud, making a false claim against the United States and making a false statement are each punishable by a maximum sentence of five years in prison; aggravated identity theft is punishable by a mandatory sentence of two years incarceration to follow conviction on any other offense.
Defendants also face a fine of up to $250,000 for each count of conviction.
The case was presented to the grand jury by Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary D. Arbeznik following investigation by the Cleveland Division of the FBI, the IRS – Criminal Investigation, and the U.S. Postal Service.
An indictment is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.