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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of Arkansas

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, March 20, 2015

First Of Eight Defendants Pleads Guilty In Tax Fraud And Identity Theft Scheme In El Dorado & Crossett, Arkansas

Texarkana, AR – Conner Eldridge, United States Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas, announced that Erica R. Browning, age 35, of El Dorado, pleaded guilty today to one count of Conspiracy to Defraud the United States with Respect to Claims, one count of Theft of Public Money, and one count of Aggravated Identity Theft. Ms. Browning was one of eight defendants indicted on June 24, 2014 by a Federal Grand Jury on multiple counts of aggravated identity theft and one count of conspiracy to defraud the government. Additionally, some of the defendants were charged with theft of public money, possession of unauthorized access devices, wire fraud, and making and presenting a false claim. The change of plea was accepted by The Honorable Harry F. Barnes in the U.S. District Court in Texarkana.

U.S. Attorney Eldridge stated, “This case involves a scheme in which the defendants fraudulently used the identity of others in order to steal money from the United States Treasury for their own personal gain. Fraud and identity theft are serious crimes that have lasting effects on the victims and are an insult to hard-working, law abiding citizens and taxpayers. Our office remains committed to prosecuting these crimes on behalf of the state and our country.”

"Today's announcement exemplifies IRS Special Agents' intense focus on the rigorous pursuit of identity theft and refund fraud," said Special Agent in Charge Christopher A. Henry, IRS Criminal Investigation. "These unscrupulous defendants perpetuated an elaborate scheme driven by insatiable greed and a blatant disregard for the tremendous damage inflicted on innocent victims. Be assured that IRS Criminal Investigation, together with our law enforcement partners and the United States Attorney's Office, will hold those who engage in similar behavior fully accountable."

Additional defendants involved in this case who have pending charges are as follows:

• Gregory A. Taylor, age 50 of Clanton, Alabama (formerly from Crossett, Arkansas)

• Venus M. Ford, age 34 of El Dorado

• Shawn D. Carey, age 34 of El Dorado

• Clarrise R. Carey, age 33 of El Dorado

• Whitney M. Charles, age 25 of El Dorado

• Ecko Scott, age 35 of North Little Rock

• Sanjuana N. Aaron, age 34 of El Dorado

The Superseding Indictment revealed that, from 2009 until approximately December 2011, the defendants unlawfully obtained the names and social security numbers belonging to others, including prison inmates and homeless individuals. The defendants unlawfully used the names and social security numbers to prepare and electronically file false 2009 and 2010 tax returns that claimed fraudulent refunds from the IRS. In many cases, the individuals were not aware the defendants had obtained their personal identifying information or that a tax return was filed using their name and social security number. The defendants received tax refunds via refund checks, direct deposits to bank accounts, and prepaid debit cards and often split the refunds amongst themselves and others.

The defendants were originally charged in a thirty-five count indictment on September 18, 2013 and were subsequently arrested. The Superseding Indictment added thirteen additional counts against Gregory A. Taylor, a paid tax return preparer from Crossett, Arkansas, for charges including aggravated identity theft, wire fraud, and a fraudulent claim for refund on his personal 2009 tax return.

Ms. Browning will be sentenced at a later date. Her sentence will be determined by the court after review of factors unique to this case, including the defendant’s prior criminal record (if any), the defendant’s role in the offense, and the characteristics of the violations. The sentence will not exceed the statutory maximum for each count in this case, and in most cases will be less than the maximum. In addition to prison time each count carries a mandatory period of supervised release and a maximum fine of $250,000.

The investigation was conducted by IRS Criminal Investigation, U.S. Secret Service, El Dorado Police Department, and Crossett Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Ross is prosecuting the cases for the United States.

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Related court documents may be found on Public Access to Electronic Records Website @www.Pacer.gov

Updated April 10, 2015