Eight Defendants Charged as Part of an Identity Theft Tax Refund Undercover Operation
Three Former NFL Players Among Those Charged in Scam
|U.S. Attorney’s Office May 01, 2012|
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida; John V. Gillies, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office; and José A. Gonzalez, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division (IRS-CID), announced the filing of charges against seven defendants arrested in connection with an FBI-led undercover operation targeting identity theft tax refund fraud. Charged in the complaint are Regina Carroll, 37, of Miami; Lanny Fried, 34, of Miami Lakes; former NFL player Louis Gachelin, 31, of Miramar; former NFL player William Joseph, 32, of Miramar; Guy Maxineau, 35, of Miami; Castra Pierre-Louis, 34, of Miami; and Gunie Similien, 32, of Miami. Each defendant allegedly negotiated between 11 and 35 fraudulently obtained tax refund checks, ranging in total value from $70,000 to $120,000. The defendants are expected to make their initial appearances in court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert L. Dube at 1:30 p.m. today.
More specifically, the defendants are charged with forgery of U.S. Treasury checks, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 510, theft of government money, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 641, and use of five or more identification documents with unlawful intent, in violation of Title 18, Untied States Code, Section 1028(a)(3). If convicted, these charges carry a maximum statutory sentence of between five to 15 years in prison.
According to the complaint, from February 2012 to April 2012, the FBI operated a financial services store (the store) in North Miami to accept fraudulently obtained tax refund checks from individuals looking to cash those checks. Undercover FBI agents worked at the store and charged large fees, ranging from 35 percent to 45 percent of the face value of the checks, for their check cashing services. According to the complaint, individuals would come to the store to cash the fraudulently obtained tax refund checks using false identification documents in the name of taxpayer victim whose refund had been stolen. Often, the defendants would forge the victim’s signature on the back of the check while inside the store. Many of the victim taxpayers whose names appear on the refund checks have already filed identity theft affidavits with the IRS.
During the three-month undercover operation, the defendants negotiated with undercover agents at the store to cash approximately $500,000 in fraudulently obtained tax refund checks. The conversations and transactions between the customers and undercover agents at the store were audio and video recorded by the FBI. The FBI paid the thieves from official FBI funds and none of the tax refund checks were actually cashed.
U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer stated, “Not only is identity theft America’s fastest-growing crime, it’s also a consumer’s worst nightmare. Most recently, identity theft has become a taxpayer’s worst nightmare also. As this three month undercover operation illustrates, identity thieves are using stolen identities to commit steal tax refunds from legitimate taxpayers. Identity theft, when combined with tax refund schemes, threatens the financial security of our citizens. It is time for tax refund scammers to realize that we will not allow them to steal others’ identities and line their pockets through fraud.”
“Organized criminals are stealing $5 billion and more by fraudulently claiming tax refunds,” said John V. Gillies, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Miami Division. “Without proper safeguards, identity theft tax fraud has become a growing epidemic. The FBI is proactively going undercover to fight the fraud but unfortunately today’s arrests are just the tip of the iceberg.”
José A. Gonzalez, Special Agent in Charge of IRS-CID, added, “Tax-related identity theft crimes are corrupting our tax system with false information, to the detriment of innocent taxpayers and the United States Treasury. For this reason, IRS is committed, along with our law enforcement partners, to aggressively investigating all parties involved in these crimes, and making sure that no such crime goes undetected.”
In a separate but related case, another former NFL player, Michael Antwon Bennett, 33, was charged by complaint with wire fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1343. He is expected to make his initial appearance in federal court this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert L. Dube at 1:30 p.m.
The complaint alleges that Bennett, a former NFL player, attempted to obtain a $200,000 loan on April 18, 2012 from the same FBI undercover store, using a bank statement falsely indicating that Bennett had $9 million in collateral for the loan. According to the complaint, on April 18, 2012, to obtain the loan, Bennett showed an undercover agent at the store a UBS financial statement in Bennett’s name. The bank statement purportedly showed a balance of approximately $9 million. Bennett signed a loan agreement for the loan. On April 30, 2012, Bennett picked up $150,000 in a cashier’s check from the store and was subsequently arrested. FBI agents contacted UBS, and UBS confirmed that Bennett’s account held a zero balance and that the account never had any money in it.
Mr. Ferrer commended the FBI, the Miami Area Corruption Task Force, IRS-CID and CBP-IA for their work on these cases. The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael N. Berger.
A complaint is only an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.