William Patrick | Florida Watchdog
BUSTED: Federal law enforcement agents announced a crack down on South Florida tax-ID theft.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — It’s tax-time, which means it’s open season for Florida fraudsters.
Thursday, the good guys got even.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida announced 25 people involved in 19 separate schemes were charged with stealing identities. Thousands of identities were reportedly stolen, all with the intent to dupe the government out of millions of dollars in bogus tax refunds.
FBI special agent George L. Piro said tax related ID-theft is alarmingly easy to pull off.
“Identity theft, the fastest growing crime here, is as easy as one, two, three. One, criminals steal someone’s name and Social Security number; two, they use that identity of file a fraudulent tax return online; three, they collect the refund check. Repeat thousands of times,” Piro said.
The Federal Trade Commission ranked Florida first among states for identity theft in 2013. A press statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office on Thursday said identity theft in Miami has reached “near epidemic proportions.”
In one instance, three people conspired to steal the identities of Miami-Dade County public school students. The plan involved using a student database that defendant Pamela Rhim-Grant, a food service worker at Horace Mann Middle School, could access. Officials say more 400 student identities have been stolen across Miami-Dade County over the past year or so.
Another case involves a former mailman, Marlon Maikel Palacios, who allegedly provided fraudsters with addresses from his mail route. Fake Internal Revenue Service tax returns were subsequently filed using those addresses and, according to the complaint, Palacios pulled IRS related correspondence, including refund checks, and delivered them to his co-conspirators for money.
Larry Benson, director of strategic alliances at Lexis Nexis and publisher of FraudoftheDay.com, told Watchdog.org that the crackdown, while encouraging, is “just a drop in the bucket.”
“These are not random incidents,” Benson said. “Tax identity theft in Florida is basically organized crime. To make a difference we need to see something like 25 arrests a day.”
A federal indictment announced Thursday against Hollandale Beach resident Judes Stanley Celestin accuses the 36-year-old of setting up two separate corporations, JC Easy Tax and Taxes on Time, and receiving more than $1 million in fraudulent tax refunds. Celestin is accused of opening numerous accounts at multiple banks and receiving direct deposits from the IRS using stolen identity information.
“The number of stolen identities and the dollar amount of the tax fraud involved in these cases is staggering,” said U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer. “These cases serve as a reminder that each and every one of us is a potential victim.