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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of California

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, April 23, 2015

Pittsburg Residents Charged With Using Stolen Identities To File False Tax Returns

OAKLAND –A federal grand jury indicted Michael Johnson and Nicole Berry with conspiracy to file false claims, filing false claims, theft of public money, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and effecting fraudulent transactions with access devices, announced United States Attorney Melinda Haag and Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation, Special Agent in Charge José M. Martinez.

According to the indictment, between February 2012 and May 2012, Johnson and Berry, both from Pittsburg, California, conspired to defraud the IRS by filing or helping others file false claims with the IRS requesting refunds in the names of others.  As part of the scheme, the defendants and their co-conspirators obtained income tax returns, names, and identities of individual taxpayers from client tax files that were stolen during a 2011 burglary of a tax preparation business whose initials are CTS.  Johnson and Berry prepared or assisted others in preparing fraudulent 2011 federal income tax returns in the names of CTS’ clients by copying certain information reported on the income tax returns stolen from CTS, including names and social security numbers.  The defendants electronically filed or assisted in filing false federal income tax returns with the IRS using the identities stolen from CTS.  Additionally, as part of the scheme, Johnson and Berry, and their co-conspirators requested that the IRS transmit the fraudulent refunds to accounts linked to prepaid debit cards.

Johnson was arrested on April 21, 2015, and made his initial appearance in federal court in Oakland on April 22, 2015.  He was released on a $100,000 unsecured bond.  His next scheduled appearance is on May 11, 2015, before the Honorable Haywood S. Gilliam, Jr., U.S. District Judge.  Berry is currently in custody in Placer County on unrelated charges.         

An indictment merely alleges that crimes have been committed, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  If convicted, the defendants face the following maximum sentences: 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count of filing false claims, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 287; 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for conspiracy to file false claims, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 286, and for each count of theft of public money, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 641; 15 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for each count of effecting fraudulent transactions with access device, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1029(a)(5); 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count of wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343; and 2 years in prison, consecutive to underlying felony, and a fine of $250,000 for aggravated identity theft, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1028A.  However, any sentence following conviction would be imposed by the court after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas Newman and Jose A. Olivera are prosecuting the case.  The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation, with the assistance of the Antioch and Pittsburg Police Departments.

Updated April 23, 2015