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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Florida

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, October 16, 2015

Three Palm Beach County Residents Plead Guilty for Their Participation in Stolen Identity Tax Fraud Scheme Involving at Least 790 Identities

Three Palm Beach County residents recently pled guilty for their participation in a stolen identity tax fraud scheme involving at least 790 stolen identities.

Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Kelly R. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), Nadine Gurley, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of the Inspector General (HUD-OIG), and Karen Citizen-Wilcox, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General (USDA-OIG), made the announcement.

Latonia Verdell, 40, and Kelli Witherspoon McIntosh, 39, both of Palm Beach County, (Case No. 14-CR-80158) and Starling Willis, 32, of West Palm Beach, (Case No. 15-CR-80119) have each pled guilty to aggravated identity theft, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1028A(a)(1) and  conspiracy to commit wire fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1343 and 1349.  Verdell also pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 922(g)(1); possessing fifteen or more unauthorized access devices, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1029(a)(3); theft of government property, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 641; and making a false statement to a federal government agency, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001(a)(2). 

The defendants face a mandatory term of two years’ imprisonment, consecutive to any other prison term, for each of the aggravated identity theft charges, as well as a maximum statutory sentence of twenty years in prison for the conspiracy conviction.  Verdell also faces a maximum of ten years in prison for each of the theft of government money, felon in possession and unauthorized access devices convictions; and a maximum of five years in prison for the false statement conviction. 

According to court documents, Verdell, Willis and McIntosh, participated in a widespread stolen identity refund fraud scheme involving at least 790 stolen identities and personal identification information (PII).   The PII was used to file fraudulent income tax returns online, with those refunds being directed to various bank accounts created and maintained by Verdell, McIntosh and Willis, as well as to reloadable debit cards.  Identity theft victims whose personal information was used for this scheme spanned from Indian River, Highlands, St. Lucie, Martin and Palm Beach Counties, as well as persons outside the State of Florida.  This scheme resulted in the submission to the IRS of more than 590 fraudulent returns in the names of other persons, seeking approximately $1.5 million in fraudulent income tax refunds. 

Court documents also state that on September 1, 2010, while Verdell was receiving income from filing fraudulent income tax returns with the IRS, she received a housing assistance payment funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), while knowing she was not entitled to receive such a payment.  On September 24, 2013, Verdell submitted an application for enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also sometimes known as ‘food stamps.’ In her application, Verdell knowingly stated that her only monthly income was $715, without any other source of income, when she was in fact receiving significant income from fraudulent tax refund payments.

Court documents also state that evidence of the stolen PII, a list of bank accounts belonging to Willis, information regarding accounts which received fraudulent refunds, and a stolen .38 caliber pistol, were found in Verdell’s home during the execution of a federal search warrant.

Sentencing hearings for Verdell, McIntosh and Willis will be scheduled by United States Senior District Judge Daniel T. K. Hurley.

Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the IRS-CID, HUD-OIG, and USDA-OIG.  Mr. Ferrer also thanked the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office for their assistance with this investigation and law enforcement operation.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Theodore Cooperstein.   

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.

 

 

 

 

Topic(s): 
Identity Theft
Updated October 16, 2015