Tampa, FL – United States Attorney A. Lee Bentley, III announces the return of an indictment charging LaJoyce Caldwell Houston (49) and Eric Houston (54) with conspiracy, theft of government property, and money laundering conspiracy. LaJoyce Houston is also charged with obtaining information from a protected computer with the intent to defraud and aggravated identity theft. If convicted, each faces a maximum penalty of 5 years in federal prison for the conspiracy count, up to 10 years in federal prison for each of the theft of government property counts, and up to 20 years’ imprisonment for the money laundering conspiracy count. LaJoyce Houston also faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison for the computer intrusion count and 2 years’ imprisonment for the aggravated identity theft count, to be served consecutive to any term of imprisonment imposed for the theft of government property and computer intrusion counts. The indictment notifies the couple that the United States intends to seek a forfeiture money judgment in an amount to be determined, but at least $239,116.91, which is traceable to the proceeds of the offenses.
According to the indictment, LaJoyce Houston was a sworn law enforcement officer with the Tampa Police Department (TPD). As part of her authorized duties, she had access to local, state, and federal law enforcement databases, including the State of Florida’s Driver and Vehicle Information Database (DAVID), but her use was restricted to the performance of her authorized duties. Her husband, TPD homicide detective Eric Houston, also had access to the databases for the performance of his authorized duties.
The indictment alleges that beginning in approximately 2010, the Houstons conspired to, among other things, access the personally identifiable information (PII) of individuals using a variety of sources, including law enforcement databases, and transmit it to Rita Girven and others, whom they knew were using that information to commit crimes, including the filing of false federal income tax returns, the receipt of fraudulently obtained tax refunds, establishing and using bank accounts in others’ names, and identity theft. Girven was a TPD informant and a friend of the couple.
The conspirators directed that the fraudulently obtained tax refunds be deposited onto reloadable debit cards or deposited directly into bank accounts opened and maintained in the names of the conspirators and others, including identities that had been stolen. The conspirators then used the debit cards and bank accounts to conduct financial transactions, including making purchases, paying off lines of credit, purchasing money orders, and withdrawing cash from ATMs.
An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed one or more violations of federal criminal law, and every defendant is presumed innocent unless, and until, proven guilty.
Rita Girven was charged separately with conspiracy to commit wire fraud in the filing of fraudulent federal income taxes. She pleaded guilty on March 16, 2015, and is scheduled to be sentenced on November 20, 2015.
This case was investigated by the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, the Tampa Police Department, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It will be prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Mandy Riedel and Megan Kistler.