Four People Charged in Stolen Identity Fraud and Money Laundering Scheme Targeting Banks and COVID-19 Pandemic Relief Funds
A North Miami Beach resident was sentenced to 48 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, and was ordered to pay restitution of $110,325, for his involvement in a conspiracy to commit state income tax fraud using stolen identities.
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Rafiq Ahmad, Special Agent in Charge, United States Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations Miami Office (DOL-OIG), Kelly R. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), Alysa D. Erichs, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI), J. Scott Dennis, Chief, North Miami Beach Police Department (NMBPD), and the Ohio Department of Taxation – Criminal Investigations Division, made the announcement.
Earnest Thad Etienne, 29, previously pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to use unauthorized access devices, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1029(b)(2), and one count of aggravated identity theft, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1028A(a)(1).
According to court records, on September 26, 2014, law enforcement executed a state search warrant at Etienne’s residence pursuant to another investigation. During the search, law enforcement officers discovered fifteen prepaid debit cards embossed with various individuals’ names, a thumb drive, ammunition, and $7,750 in cash in Etienne’s bedroom. In another room in the residence, law enforcement discovered additional electronic devices and a bank debit card embossed with the name of an individual who did not appear to live in the residence. Several firearms and additional ammunition were found in the backyard of the home.
Subsequent investigation by federal law enforcement revealed that the thumb drive discovered in Etienne’s room contained the personal identifying information (PII) – including names, dates of birth, and social security numbers – of many individuals with addresses in Ohio. In addition, Etienne used at least one of the debit cards found in his residence to withdraw money associated with fraudulent state of Ohio income tax refunds.
Court documents further state that between January 14, 2014, and September 26, 2014, Etienne and his co-conspirators caused fraudulent income tax returns to be filed in the State of Ohio seeking tax refunds in amounts ranging between $7,543 and $11,515. The conspirators caused the State of Ohio to pay the fraudulent tax refunds to pre-paid debit cards in other individuals’ names or to a bank account in one of the co-conspirator’s names. On several occasions, Etienne withdrew money from the bank account in his co-conspirator’s name that contained fraudulent income tax refunds from the State of Ohio.
Co-defendant Wilbert Champagne, 20, of North Miami Beach, was charged with conspiracy to use unauthorized access devices, use of unauthorized access devices, and aggravated identity theft. Champagne is a fugitive.
Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the DOL-OIG, IRS-CI, ICE-HSI, NMBPD and the Ohio Department of Taxation – Criminal Investigations Division. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jamie R. Galvin.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.