Clay County Man Indicted For Fraud Scheme Using Stolen Identities To Obtain Paycheck Protection Program Loans, Filing A False Tax Return, And Stolen Property
Tampa, FL – U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore today sentenced Equanzick Howell a/k/a “Pookie,” “Big Pook,” and “Pook Pook” (31, Tampa) to 11 years and 2 months in federal prison for theft of government property and aggravated identity theft. Howell had pleaded guilty on August 16, 2018.
According to court documents, between 2011 and 2018, Howell, who was a senior member of the Manche Boy Mafia or “MBM” gang, committed tax fraud, credit card fraud, and identity theft in the Tampa Bay area. Between March and June 2013, Howell filed 12 fraudulent tax returns, including one in his own name, and directed that the refunds be loaded onto his H&R Block card. All of the returns, except for Howell’s own return, were filed using identities stolen from individuals who were deceased, elderly, and/or severely mentally disabled. Howell used the H&R Block account to make ATM withdrawals and purchases from Tampa-area retailers and restaurants, including a $2,500 payment to a cosmetic surgery center where Howell’s girlfriend received a cosmetic procedure.
For the 2012, 2013, and 2014 tax years, Howell and those working with him made false claims to the IRS for tax refunds to which they were not entitled in the amount of a least $976,000 and, as a result, received approximately $140,000 in fraudulently obtained tax refunds.
Investigators also learned that, starting in early 2015, members of MBM, including Howell, began purchasing stolen credit and debit card account numbers online from various websites, many of which use bitcoin as their currency. Once the members of this conspiracy purchased the stolen account numbers, they or someone working with them created counterfeit credit cards. The conspirators typically used the counterfeit credit cards to purchase gift cards and electronics, which they kept or later sold for cash. Howell also used counterfeit credit cards to obtain gift cards, which were used to purchase firearms and ammunition. To date, investigators have determined that Howell was responsible for approximately $1.1 million in intended or attempted purchases with counterfeit credit cards and stolen account information.
“The sentencing of Equanzick Howell represents the tireless efforts of dedicated IRS Special Agents, in coordination with the FBI and Tampa Police Department, to eradicate the scourge of stolen identity related tax fraud,” stated Special Agent in Charge Mary Hammond of IRS Criminal Investigation. “Howell and his gang heaped untold nightmarish anxiety on their victims, which surely any of us would feel upon learning we had become the target of an identity thief. We are firmly committed to teaming up with our law enforcement partners to pursue any individual and dismantle any organization brazen enough to attempt this heinous crime.”
This case was investigated by the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigations, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Tampa Police Department. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Mandy Riedel.