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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Alaska

Monday, December 30, 2013

Defendants sentenced in $25 Million Tax Fraud and Drug Conspiracy

Anchorage, Alaska - U.S. Attorney Karen L. Loeffler announced today that Joel Santana-Pierna and Abel Santana-Pierna, citizens of the Dominican Republic residing in Alaska, were sentenced to 135 months and 72 months imprisonment, respectively, for their roles in masterminding and perpetrating large drug trafficking and tax fraud conspiracies.

Joel Santana-Pierna pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute cocaine and conspiracy to defraud the government with respect to claims on May 2, 2013.  His brother, Abel Santana-Pierna, pled to the same charges on July 23, 2013. In addition to their prison sentences, the Santana-Pierna brothers were ordered to pay restitution to the Internal Revenue Service in the amount of $559,755.  Both brothers also agreed to forfeit to the United States approximately $130,000 obtained as part of their drug trafficking activities.

In sentencing the Santana-Pierna brothers, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy M. Burgess repeatedly emphasized the seriousness of the offenses committed by both men and noted the need to protect the public while also deterring others from committing these types of crimes in the future.

 According to court documents, from January 2010 to March 2012, Joel Santana-Pierna led his conspirators, including his brother Abel Santana-Pierna and others, in distributing cocaine in the Anchorage area.  He also arranged to import over two kilograms of cocaine into Alaska for distribution. In addition to their cocaine smuggling scheme, the Santana-Pierna brothers conspired to use stolen Puerto Rican identities to file false income tax returns and obtain large income tax refunds to which they were not entitled.

Conspirators in the income tax fraud scheme obtained the identities of more than 3,000 individuals, including names and social security numbers. Most of these stolen identities were from citizens of Puerto Rico.  Using this stolen information, the brothers and their co-conspirators completed false returns and submitted them to the IRS.  Altogether, the United States estimates that the total loss intended by members of the conspiracy exceeded $25 million. 

“The sheer greed of these drug traffickers is clear; they wreaked havoc on the innocent to bolster their personal wealth,” said Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Matthew G. Barnes. “This is an example of the multiple layers of criminal activity involved in a drug investigation.  The extraordinary coordination between the law enforcement community has put these criminals where they belong.”

“The Santana-Piernas’ multi-layered identity theft and fraud scheme to divert taxpayer dollars from the U.S. Treasury to themselves victimized many innocent people, and today’s sentence is an appropriate outcome,” said Richard Weber, Chief of Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation. “Investigating tax return fraud through identity theft remains a top priority for criminal investigators of the Internal Revenue Service, and we will relentlessly pursue those who choose to defraud the government and disrupt the lives of innocent taxpayers.”

Ten other individuals were also indicted as part of the drug trafficking and fraud conspiracies. 
For his role in the conspiracy, co-defendant Isaac Amparo-Vazquez was sentenced on February 1, 2013, to 57 months in prison.  Another co-defendant, Misael Polanco-Villa, who was instrumental in the drug trafficking conspiracy, was sentenced to 46 months in prison.   Two former Wells Fargo Bank employees, Melissa Duran-Muniz and Hilda Josephine Hernandez McMullen, have also been sentenced.  Multiple other co-conspirators await sentencing.  One remains a fugitive.

The case was jointly prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas C. Bradley, James Barkeley, and Stephanie C. Courter of the U. S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Alaska. The case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which oversees Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), and the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service.  Additional assistance was provided by the Tax Division of the United States Department of Justice as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the District of New Jersey, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and the Southern District of New York.

Updated January 29, 2015