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Justice News

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

Friday, February 13, 2015

Phoenix Arizona - Woman Pled Guilty to Mail Fraud and Aggravated Identity Theft.

SYRACUSE, NEW YORK –United States Attorney Richard S. Hartunian and IRS-Criminal Investigations, New York Field Office, Special Agent in Charge Shantelle P. Kitchen announced that Elaine Monique Zavala-Charres, 34, of Phoenix Arizona pled guilty today in federal court in Utica, New York to mail fraud and aggravated identity theft in a case involving false federal income tax returns that resulted in the theft of over $260,000.00 from the IRS. Zavala-Charres admitted that in 2011 and 2012 she operated a scheme with her codefendant, Lacey Hollinger, a Massena, New York native, wherein Massena area residents were contacted 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 Elaine Monique Zavala-Charres in Phoenix, Arizona, who used it to create false and fraudulent tax returns that generated over $260,000.00 in tax refunds. Zavala-Charres and Hollinger stole these funds after they were electronically deposited in bank accounts they controlled 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 did get pre-paid debit cards that Hollinger and Zavala-Charres caused them to receive in the mail. Many got nothing, with Elaine Monique Zavalla-Charres and Lacey Hollinger keeping most of the refund money.

Lacey Hollinger, 27, pled guilty to these same charges and will be sentenced on March 5, 2015.

"Identify theft and false income tax filings are two crimes that are increasingly affecting the public," stated United States Attorney Richard S. Hartunian. "The most important thing for citizens to remember is to never give their personal identifying information out to people they don’t know or who shouldn’t need that information."

At sentencing on June 10, 2015 in Utica, Elaine Monique Zavala-Charres faces a maximum sentence of up to twenty (20) years for her conviction for mail fraud and a fine of up to $250,000.00 as well as restitution. She faces an additional mandatory sentence of two (2) years imprisonment for her plea of guilty to aggravated identity theft, to be served consecutively to her mail fraud sentence. She faces up to three (3) years of supervised release following her release from prison.

Updated February 23, 2015