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Press Release

Two Detroit Women Sentenced for Filing False Tax Returns Using Identities of Dead People

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

Two Detroit residents were sentenced yesterday after pleading guilty to charges of wire fraud and aiding and abetting in identity theft, Acting Assistant Attorney General Caroline D. Ciraolo of the Justice Department’s Tax Division, U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade of the Eastern District of Michigan and Acting Special Agent in Charge Jarod Koopman of Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) announced today.

U.S. District Court Judge Avern Cohn of the Eastern District of Michigan sentenced Brenda Knight to serve 24 months in prison and Adreann Turnage to serve 18 months in prison.  Willie Watkins, Knight’s husband, was sentenced on April 29, 2014, to serve 30 months in prison and ordered to pay $410,949 in restitution for wire fraud and identity theft.  

“The Tax Division has zero tolerance for stealing the identities of the deceased and other vulnerable members of our communities,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Ciraolo.  “The individuals perpetrating these egregious tax crimes will be identified, their criminal operations will be dismantled and they will be prosecuted and punished to the fullest extent of the law.”

According to court records, Knight and Turnage participated in a scheme with Watkins and others to defraud the United States by using the stolen names and social security numbers of recently deceased individuals to prepare fraudulent income tax returns.  The defendants electronically filed more than 700 fraudulent 2010 tax returns falsely claiming the Earned Income Credit, Education Credits and the Making America Work Credit, resulting in refund claims of more than $1.8 million.  The returns were transmitted utilizing public access internet connections from various locations including Starbucks and Red Roof Inns.  A Comcast Communications account registered to Turnage transmitted 46 fraudulent returns.  The refunds were directed to bank accounts, many of which were controlled by Watkins, established for the sole purpose of receiving the refunds.  Knight helped recruit individuals to whom Watkins would issue checks written on the accounts, cash them and bring the proceeds back to Watkins for distribution to participants in the scheme.  

“Using the identities of deceased individuals to commit crimes for financial gain is particularly egregious,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Koopman.  “Identity theft is a top priority for the IRS-Criminal Investigation and we will continue to detect and investigate these types of cases in order to protect taxpayers from being victimized.” 

Acting Assistant Attorney General Ciraolo and U.S. Attorney McQuade thanked the special agents of IRS-CI, who investigated the case, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Ross I. MacKenzie of the Eastern District of Michigan and Trial Attorney Kenneth C. Vert of the Tax Division, who prosecuted the case.

Updated May 18, 2016

Press Release Number: 15-456