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Press Release

Detroit Residents Plead Guilty To Defrauding Irs With Identities Of Deceased Individuals

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Michigan

Two Detroit residents pleaded guilty today to charges of wire fraud and aiding and abetting in the use of false identification, U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade announced today.

United States Attorney McQuade was joined in the announcement by Acting Special Agent in Charge Jarod Koopman, IRS Criminal Investigation.

Brenda Knight and Adreann Turnage, both of Detroit, entered their guilty pleas before U.S. District Court Judge Avern Cohn.

According to court records, Knight and Turnage participated in a scheme with co-defendant Willie Watkins, Knight’s husband, and others, to defraud the United States by using the names and Social Security numbers of recently deceased individuals to prepare fraudulent tax returns.   Hundreds of fraudulent 2010 tax returns were filed, claiming refunds of more than $1 million dollars.  The returns sought refunds by making false claims for the Earned Income Credit, Education Credits and the Making America Work Credit.  The returns were transmitted electronically, utilizing public access internet connections from local hotels and coffee shops.  Forty-six fraudulent returns were transmitted using an internet account registered to Turnage.  The refunds were directed to bank accounts that were established for the sole purpose of receiving the fraudulent refunds.  Willie Watkins had control over a number of the accounts.  Knight helped recruit individuals to whom Watkins would issue checks written on the accounts.  The recruits would cash the checks and bring the proceeds to Watkins for distribution to participants in the scheme, including Knight and Turnage.  

"Using the identities of deceased individuals to commit crimes for financial gain is particularly egregious.  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," Jarod Koopman, Acting Special Agent in Charge IRS-Criminal Investigation. 

“This case is a sobering reminder that criminals use the identities of recently deceased individuals to steal their tax refunds,” McQuade said.  “We applaud the IRS for their aggressive enforcement of this deplorable crime, and we encourage family members to be vigilant in safeguarding the taxpayer information of their loved ones.”

A sentencing hearing for Knight and Turnage will be set by the court.  Wire fraud carries a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment and/or a fine of $250,000.  Use of false identification with the intent to commit a violation of federal law carries a maximum penalty of 15 years and/or a fine of $250,000.

The investigation of this case was conducted by special agents of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ross MacKenzie and Kenneth Vert, Trial Attorney, Department of Justice, Tax Division.

Updated March 19, 2015