Federal Agents Arrest Six People Across Alabama Charged With State Inmate In Tax Refund Scheme
BIRMINGHAM – Federal agents today arrested six people in four cities across Alabama who are charged in connection with a five-year federal tax fraud conspiracy directed from inside an Alabama state prison, announced U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division Special Agent in Charge Veronica Hyman-Pillot, and FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard D. Schwein Jr.
The man charged as the leader of the conspiracy, SHERMAINE “Shade” GERMAN, 56, now incarcerated in Bibb County Correctional Facility in Brent, was an inmate at Donaldson Correctional Facility in Bessemer at the time of the conspiracy. He is charged with orchestrating the far-reaching tax fraud scheme from Donaldson, where he obtained the names, birth dates and Social Security numbers of other people, often fellow inmates, including prisoners on death row and those serving sentences of life without parole. He used their information to create false income tax returns that contained fabricated amounts of tax withholdings, according to the indictment unsealed following the arrests.
German also created false power of attorney forms, which he mailed out of the prison along with the false income tax returns, according to the indictment. Various other members of the conspiracy notarized the power of attorney forms and used them to cash or deposit income tax refund checks received as part of the scheme, according to the indictment.
Six of seven people charged in the conspiracy with German were arrested today in Huntsville, Montgomery, Eufaula and Mobile.
“Schemes such as this involve millions of dollars stolen from legitimate taxpayers and the U.S. Treasury,” Vance said. “Thanks to the diligent and cooperative efforts of law enforcement, we were able to shut down this long-term fraud.”
"Individuals who commit refund fraud and identity theft with this degree of trickery, dishonesty and deceit deserve to be punished to the fullest extent of the law," Hyman-Pillot said. "We, along with the United States Attorney's Office, continue to do our part in protecting the sanctity and integrity of the tax system.”
“This case, as others our office and our law enforcement partners have investigated, shows that a person's identity and identification numbers have become a valuable commodity to today's criminal and should be guarded diligently by their owners,” Schwein said.
The 20-count May indictment filed in U.S. District Court charges that German and his co-defendants conspired from January 2008 through May 2013 to obtain payment of false claims for refunds from the Internal Revenue Service by filing fraudulent federal income tax returns in other people’s names.
Charged along with German in the conspiracy are: RONALD WEBSTER, 55, BRENDA JOYCE McDONALD, 55, and YVETTE BERRY PINCKNEY, 48, all of Montgomery; MARLO YVETTE MILLER, 46, and IRENE KING DOUGLAS, 58, both of Huntsville; CYNTHIA DIANNE WARE, 49, of Eufaula; and BARBARA ANN GRIMES, 62, of Mobile.
McDonald is the one defendant not yet in custody.
Further details of the scheme, as outlined in Count One of the indictment, are as follows:
Douglas sent blank tax return forms to German in prison. Douglas also received and cashed or deposited proceeds from tax refund checks using power of attorney forms she had someone else notarize.
German used two addresses in Montgomery and one in Mobile as return addresses where tax refunds should be delivered. One of the addresses was a Montgomery P.O. Box owned by Webster; one was the Montgomery apartment address of McDonald on Bonaparte Boulevard; and the third was a Mobile P.O. Box from which Grimes collected refund checks and power of attorney forms.
Webster collected IRS refund checks mailed to his P.O. Box and provided the checks and power of attorney forms to other co-conspirators, including Miller and Ware in Huntsville and Pinckney in Montgomery. Pinckney notarized power of attorney forms and, along with other co-conspirators, used the forms to cash or deposit fraudulent refund checks. Proceeds from the scheme were deposited into Pinckney’s Regions Bank account. Pinckney communicated with German on a contraband telephone he had in prison.
Miller cashed or deposited the fraudulent refund checks she received from Webster into Regions Bank or Redstone Federal Credit Union.
McDonald collected fraudulent refund checks mailed to her Montgomery apartment and provided them to Webster.
Grimes received fraudulent refund checks and power of attorney forms at the Mobile P.O. Box, had the power of attorney forms notarized, and then used them to cash or deposit the checks.
Counts Two through Nine of the indictment charge German and Webster with making false claims to the IRS.
Counts 10 through 15 charge German with mail fraud for causing or aiding others in causing the U.S. Postal Service to deliver fraudulent refund checks to the Montgomery and Mobile addresses.
Count 16 charges German, Webster, McDonald and Grimes with conspiracy to commit mail fraud against the U.S. Department of Treasury.
Counts 17 through 20 are aggravated identity fraud charges against German and Webster for using other people’s identifying information to create and file false tax returns.
The conspiracy to defraud the government and false claims charges both carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud both carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Aggravated identity fraud carries a two-year minimum mandatory prison sentence that must be served consecutively to any other sentence imposed in the crime.
The IRS and FBI investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell E. Penfield is prosecuting the case.
The public is reminded that an indictment is only a charge. A defendant is presumed innocent and it will be the government’s responsibility to prove guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt at trial.