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Justice News

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, August 6, 2015

Arizona Woman Sentenced To Six Years Jail In Identity Theft Tax Fraud Case

Involved false income tax returns of over $400,000

SYRACUSE, NEW YORK –United States Attorney Richard S. Hartunian and IRS-Criminal Investigations, New York Field Office, Acting Special Agent in Charge Thomas E. Bishop announced that Elaine Monique Zavalla-Charres, 34, of Winslow, Arizona was sentenced yesterday in federal court in Utica, New York in connection with her convictions for mail fraud and aggravated identity theft in a case involving false federal income tax returns that resulted in the theft of over $400,000 from the IRS. Charres was sentenced to serve a total of seventy-two 72 months in jail: 48 months for mail fraud and a consecutive term of 24 months for aggravated identity theft. She was also sentenced to serve 3 years of supervised release following her release from prison and ordered to make restitution to the IRS of $411,309.

The fraud scheme which gave rise to the sentence occurred in 2011 through 2013. A co-defendant of Elaine Monique Zavalla-Charres, Lacey Hollinger, 27, of Massena, New York, contacted Massena area residents via Facebook and other electronic media to tell them they were eligible for a tax refund even though they were unemployed and had no income as part of a U.S. Government "stimulus program." No such program existed. Several dozen responded, giving Hollinger their personal identification information (date of birth, social security number, etc.). Hollinger forwarded this information to Charres, who used it to create false and fraudulent tax returns that, with others obtained from Arizona residents, generated over $400,000 in tax refunds. Charres, Hollinger, and others involved in the fraudulent scheme stole these funds after they were electronically deposited in bank accounts in Arizona.

The Massena area residents never saw the tax returns, which falsely represented that they were self-employed and entitled to a refund. Some received pre-paid debit cards that Elaine Monique Zavalla-Charres directed to them through the U.S. Mail. Many got nothing, with Charres and Hollinger keeping most of the refund money. On May 22, 2013, IRS-CI Special Agents executed a search warrant at the former residence of Charres in Phoenix, Arizona, resulting in the recovery of a computer used to create and file the fraudulent tax returns and numerous other documents used in the scheme.

Co-defendant Lacey Hollinger was sentenced on May 22, 2015 to serve a term of 36 months imprisonment, three years of supervised release and restitution.

United States Attorney Richard S. Hartunian stated, "People who use identity theft to steal money by filing fake tax returns hurt honest taxpayers and cost the United States billions of dollars. Cross-country crime connections cannot be allowed to evade the reach of the law. This was a serious crime warranting significant jail sentences and full restitution."

"The Internal Revenue Service has made the investigation of individuals who orchestrate tax refund schemes using stolen identities a top priority. The sentence that Ms. Zavala-Charres received illustrates the consequences of committing this type of crime and how seriously the government is about prosecuting it. It will hopefully serve as a deterrent to others," said IRS-Criminal Investigations in the New York Field Office, Acting Special Agent in Charge Thomas E. Bishop.

The case was investigated by Special Agents of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigations (Syracuse, New York Field Office). It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Richard Southwick.

Updated August 6, 2015