Daily News – Three Bowling Green, Kentucky residents used identification documents of Mexican nationals living outside the U.S. to file fraudulent tax claims in Warren County over a two-year period, according to a federal indictment.
Maria Chavez Salazar, Fernando Diaz Herrera and Julio Ramos were charged in a federal indictment that was unsealed Friday.
The conspiracy is alleged to have taken place from June 23, 2010, to Aug. 8, 2012.
Salazar, 39, and Herrera, 47, are accused in the indictment of obtaining identification documents from Mexican nationals, including birth certificates, immunization records and voter cards, that were then used to obtain Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers from the IRS.
The indictment alleges that Ramos, age unavailable, joined Salazar and Herrera in using the illegally obtained taxpayer identification numbers to file false tax returns, and the subsequent tax refund checks were cashed in Bowling Green.
Authorities claim that on March 14, 2011, Herrera filed false returns for the 2007 and 2008 tax years for a person identified in the indictment as “R.B.R.”
Tax refund checks for those two years were alleged to have been forged by Ramos on June 1 and 2, 2011, and fraudulently cashed at Cash Express in Bowling Green, the indictment said.
Herrera filed a tax return for 2010 for another person identified in the indictment as “S.A.V.” on April 11, 2011, with Ramos driving a person identified as “M.A.” to Cash Express on June 3, 2011, so that “M.A.” could forge and cash the refund check to “S.A.V.”, according to the indictment.
The offenses charged in the indictment fit under the umbrella of what federal authorities call stolen identity refund fraud, in which criminals steal or buy personal identifying information from others to create false tax returns to obtain fraudulent refunds, which can be electronically deposited to a bank account or pre-paid debit card or issued in the mail as a check.
From January 2008 to May 2012, the IRS identified more than 550,000 taxpayers who have had their identities stolen for the purpose of claiming false refunds in their names, according to information on the U.S. Department of Justice’s website.
“The low physical risk and high potential for financial gain has made stolen identity refund fraud a crime of choice for drug dealers and gangs,” said Kathryn Keneally, assistant U.S. attorney general for the tax division, in testimony before a Senate subcommittee in 2013.
While federal court documents do not specify how much money Salazar, Herrera and Ramos are accused of stealing, a look at similar cases shows that this particular kind of fraud is a lucrative component of the underground economy.
A Georgia woman who worked at a check-cashing business pleaded guilty last month to conspiring to commit wire fraud in a scheme in which she cashed more than $100,000 in fraudulent tax refund checks in exchange for a portion of the refunds, according to the federal justice department.
In another case this year, a former bail bondsman in Alabama provided stolen identities to another person who filed tax returns claiming more than $300,000 in refunds.
The former bail bondsman and two others involved in the conspiracy were convicted and sentenced to prison terms ranging between 34-51 months, according to the justice department.
The conspiracy charge carries a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison, while mail fraud carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
No attorneys are listed in online federal court records for Salazar, Herrera or Ramos, and no court date has been scheduled.
The case is being prosecuted in U.S. District Court in Bowling Green.
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