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Press Release

Washington, D.C., Man Pleads Guilty to Federal Charges in Massive Identity Theft and Tax Fraud Scheme

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

Admits Working with Others to Seek More Than $1.1 Million in Fraudulent Refunds

A Washington, D.C., man pleaded guilty to various crimes committed in a far-reaching identity theft and tax fraud scheme in which he and others filed fraudulent federal income tax returns seeking more than $1.1 million in refunds, the Justice Department announced today.

James Nelson, 31, is among approximately a dozen people who have pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to charges in one of the largest prosecutions to date involving the use of stolen identifying information.  The overall case involves the filing of at least 12,000 fraudulent federal income tax returns that sought refunds of at least $40 million.

The guilty plea, unsealed today, was announced by U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. of the District of Columbia, Principal Deputy Acting Assistant Attorney General Caroline D. Ciraolo of the Justice Department’s Tax Division, Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Kelly of the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Washington Field Office, Acting Inspector in Charge David M. McGinnis of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s (USPIS) Washington Division, Assistant Inspector General for Investigations John L. Phillips of the  U.S. Department of Treasury, and Special Agent in Charge Kathy A. Michalko of the U.S. Secret Service’s Washington Field Office.

Nelson pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States with respect to claims, aiding and abetting in the making of false claims for refund, and aiding and abetting in fraud and related activity involving identification information.  Under federal sentencing guidelines, Nelson faces an estimated range of 41 to 51 months in prison and a fine of up to $75,000 at his sentencing before the Honorable U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle of the District of Columbia.  In addition, as part of his plea agreement, Nelson must pay $636,026 in restitution to the IRS.

“James Nelson now joins numerous others who have pleaded guilty in this prosecution of a D.C.–based scheme involving at least 12,000 fake income tax returns,” said U.S. Attorney Machen.  “Honest taxpayers – like those filing their returns this week – are victimized by these scammers who use stolen identities to generate fraudulent tax refunds and drain money from the U.S. Treasury.  This prosecution is not over.  We will remain aggressive in our efforts to investigate and prosecute tax refund fraud involving identity theft.”

“One of the Tax Division’s highest priorities is prosecuting individuals such as James Nelson and his co-conspirators, who use stolen identities to file fictitious income tax returns and claim fraudulent refunds,” said Principal Deputy Acting Assistant Attorney General Ciraolo.  “This street crime threatens the very fabric of tax administration and often victimizes the most vulnerable members of our communities.  The Tax Division is committed to working with our partners in law enforcement to identify these schemes, dismantle the criminal operations, and punish the offenders who view the Federal Treasury as their own personal bank account.”

“Perpetrators of identity theft schemes are motivated by greed, acting as if they are above the law and with total disregard for the consequences to the victims,” said Special Agent in Charge Kelly.  “The actions of criminals, such as Mr. Nelson, create distressing hardships for many innocent taxpayers and have a devastating impact on the entire community.”

“Postal Inspectors are proud to join our federal law enforcement partners to bring this case to a successful resolution,” said Acting Inspector in Charge McGinnis.  “By joining forces, we are able to bring justice to those who would misuse the U.S. mail in order to defraud innocent citizens and the U.S. government.”

“I am proud of the work done by our Office of Investigations, cooperating with other law enforcement organizations in detecting and deterring this fraud and protecting the integrity of the nation’s tax system,” said Assistant Inspector General Phillips.

“Our success in this case and similar investigations is a result of our close work with law enforcement partners,” said Special Agent in Charge Michalko.  “The Secret Service worked closely with the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Justice to share information and resources that ultimately brought James Nelson to justice.  This case demonstrates there is no such thing as anonymity for those engaging in identity theft and fraudulent schemes.”

According to the government’s evidence, Nelson was among participants in a massive and sophisticated identity theft and false tax refund scheme involving an extensive network of more than 130 people, many of whom were receiving public assistance.  The refunds were sought since 2006, often in the names of people whose identities had been stolen, including the elderly, people in assisted living facilities, drug addicts and incarcerated prisoners.  In other cases, the refunds were sent to people who were willing participants in the scheme.  The refunds listed more than 400 “taxpayer” addresses in the District of Columbia.

From December 2007 through January 2012, according to the government’s evidence, Nelson used his residential addresses, then in the District of Columbia, for the receipt of some of the fraudulently obtained tax refunds.  He also recruited others to receive fraudulent refunds at their addresses.  For example, Nelson paid one woman about $150 per check for each refund check delivered to her residential address in the District of Columbia.

Approximately 360 fraudulent federal income tax returns were filed with the IRS listing the addresses that were under Nelson’s control.  The returns sought refunds of approximately $908,500.  As a result, the IRS sent out 238 checks, totaling about $524,795, and 184 of those checks, totaling $432,804, were ultimately cashed. 

Nelson also recruited others to negotiate at least 86 other refund checks, totaling approximately $203,222, causing a total intended loss to the U.S. Treasury of more than $1.1 million.

In announcing the plea, U.S. Attorney Machen, Principal Deputy Acting Assistant Attorney General Ciraolo, Special Agent in Charge Kelly, Acting Inspector in Charge McGinnis, Assistant Inspector General Phillips and Special Agent in Charge Michalko commended those who investigated the case.  They also acknowledged the efforts of those who worked on the case from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, including former Assistant U.S. Attorney Sherri L. Schornstein and Paralegal Specialist Donna Galindo.  Finally, they expressed appreciation for the work of Assistant U.S. Attorney Ellen Chubin Epstein of the District of Columbia’s Fraud and Public Corruption Section and Trial Attorneys Jessica N. Moran and Jeffrey B. Bender of the Tax Division, who are prosecuting the case.

Updated May 18, 2016

Identity Theft
Press Release Number: 15-206