Two Palm Beach County Residents Convicted in Connection with Identity Theft Tax Refund Fraud Scheme
The leader and another member of a massive identity theft tax refund fraud scheme have been convicted of conspiracy, wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft charges following a ten day trial.
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), Ric Bradshaw, Sheriff, Palm Beach County Sherriff’s Office, and Amos Rojas, Jr., United States Marshals, United States Marshals Service Regional Fugitive Task Force, made the announcement.
Defendant Lukner Blanc, 31, of Royal Palm Beach, and Benoit Placide, a/k/a “Snow,” a/k/a “Mario,” 26, of West Palm Beach, were convicted of conspiracy to receive, conceal or retain monies stolen from the United States, wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft. Blanc was also convicted of receiving, concealing and retaining monies stolen from the United States. The defendants were remanded into custody, following their conviction.
At trial, the government presented evidence that the federal investigation began with the arrest of Blanc, on October 29, 2012, for an unrelated state crime. Agents recovered four bank debit cards out of Blanc’s pants pocket, all in the names of other persons. While incarcerated in the state case, Blanc made recorded calls from the Palm Beach County Jail. Based on information obtained during the course of the monitored and recorded jail calls, law enforcement officials obtained a state search warrant for the residence of co-conspirator Jean Juste, a/k/a “Junior,” a/k/a “Shorty,” 24, of West Palm Beach. Inside Juste’s residence, agents discovered items used to facilitate identity theft crimes, including computers, more than sixty-nine Western Union debit cards, lists of employers, and the names, Social Security numbers, and dates of birth of various individuals. During the course of the investigation, law enforcement learned that Blanc and Juste were associates in the identity theft fraud scheme, alongside co-conspirator Placide.
During the course of the identity theft fraud scheme investigation federal agents obtained additional warrants to search the computers recovered from Juste’s residence. Forensic examinations of the computers revealed that more than 1,000 fraudulent federal personal income tax returns had been filed using the operating system. The returns were submitted over the internet to the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) using TaxHawk.com and TurboTax. The actual taxpayers had filed or authorized the filing of the fraudulent income tax returns. Co-conspirators of the fraud scheme opened bank accounts in Florida, in order receive the fraudulently obtained federal income tax refunds.
The co-conspirators attempted to obtain more than $1,200,000 in unauthorized income tax refunds. The co-conspirators received more than $700,000 in fraudulent tax refund payments, which were sent to bank accounts and pre-paid debit cards they controlled. After the fraudulent refunds were sent by wire transfer to the bank accounts and debit cards, the defendants and their co-conspirators withdrew the funds at automatic teller machines (ATMs) and point of sale electronic terminals at various retail establishments.
Co-conspirator Jean Juste previously pled guilty to conspiracy, theft of government funds, wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft. On February 17, 2015, Juste was sentenced to 84 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, and was ordered to pay restitution of $668,947 for his participation in the conspiracy.
Co-Conspirator Marie Claude, 25, of Lantana, previously pled guilty for her participation in the conspiracy.
Co-conspirator Marie Demesyeux, 29, of Lake Worth, previously pled guilty to one count of perjury for making a false statement while testifying under oath before a Federal Grand Jury.
Claude and Demesyeux are scheduled to be sentenced on April 16, 2015 before United States District Judge T.K. Hurley.
Co-conspirator Shelda Phadael, 28, of Lake Worth, previously pled guilty to conspiracy and theft of government funds. Phadel is scheduled to be sentenced on May 27, 2015 before United States District Judge T.K. Hurley.
Co-conspirator Frank Fleuzinord, 29, of Cape Coral, is a fugitive.
Defendants Claude and Demesyeux face maximum possible sentences of five years in prison. Phadel faces a maximum possible sentence of fifteen years in prison for the theft of government funds conviction and twenty years in prison for the conspiracy conviction. Blanc and Placide face a maximum possible sentence of twenty years in prison for the conspiracy-related convictions, followed by a mandatory minimum term of two years in prison for the aggravated identity theft conviction.
Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of IRS-CI, the United States Marshals Service Regional Fugitive Task Force, and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Carlton.