FEB 11 (NEWARK, N.J.) – Two defendants today admitted their roles in one of the nation’s largest and longest running stolen identity refund fraud schemes ever identified, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman.
The scheme caused more than 8,000 fraudulent U.S. income tax returns to be filed, which sought more than $65 million in tax refunds, and which resulted in the losses to the United States of more than $12 million.
Bennie Haynes, 53, of Dayton, N.J., a former U.S. Postal Service carrier, and Manuel Rodriguez, 50, of New Brunswick, N.J., both pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Claire C. Cecchi. Haynes pleaded guilty to an Information charging him with conspiracy to defraud the United States, theft of government property, and theft of mail by a postal employee. Rodriguez pleaded guilty to an Information charging him with conspiracy to defraud the United States, theft of government property and aggravated identity theft.
The conspiracy counts are punishable by a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. The substantive counts of theft of government property carry a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. The theft of mail by a postal employee carries a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. The aggravated identity theft count is punishable by a statutory mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison, which must run consecutively to any other sentence.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
Stolen Identity Refund Fraud
Stolen Identity Refund Fraud (“SIRF”) is a common type of fraud committed against the United States government that results in more than $2 billion in losses annually to the United States Treasury. SIRF schemes generally share a number of hallmarks:
• SIRF perpetrators obtain personal identifying information, including Social Security numbers and dates of birth, from unwitting individuals, who often reside in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
• SIRF perpetrators complete Individual Income Tax Return Form 1040s (“Form 1040”) using the fraudulently-obtained information, and falsifying wages earned, taxes withheld and other data. Perpetrators use data to make it appear that the “taxpayers” listed on the fraudulent 1040 forms are entitled to tax refunds – when in fact, the various tax withholdings indicated on the fraudulent 1040s have not been paid by the listed “taxpayers,” and no refunds are due.
• Perpetrators direct the U.S.Treasury Department to issue the refunds through checks (“Tax Refund Treasury Checks”) generated by the fraudulent 1040 forms to locations they control or can access, in various ways.
• With Tax Refund Treasury Checks now in hand, SIRF perpetrators generate cash proceeds. Certain SIRF perpetrators sell Tax Refund Treasury Checks at a discount to face value. In turn, the buyers then cash the Tax Refund Treasury Checks, either themselves or using straw account holders, by cashing checks at banks or check cashing businesses, or by depositing checks into bank accounts. When cashing or depositing Tax Refund Treasury Checks, SIRF perpetrators often present false or fraudulent identification documents in the names of the “taxpayers” to whom the checks are payable.
Federal law enforcement agencies created a multi-agency task force in New Jersey composed of investigators from the IRS and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, along with the U.S. Secret Service, and with assistance from the Drug Enforcement Administration (the “New Jersey Task Force”).
An investigation led by the New Jersey Task Force, with assistance from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations, revealed that from at least 2007, dozens of individuals in the New Jersey and New York area have been engaged in a large-scale, long running SIRF scheme that caused more than 8,000 fraudulent 1040 forms to be filed, seeking more than $65 million in tax refunds, with more than $12 million in losses to the U.S. Treasury.
Defendant Manuel Rodriguez and others obtained personal identifiers, such as dates of birth and Social Security numbers, belonging to Puerto Rican citizens. Rodriguez and others used those identifiers to create fraudulent 1040 forms, which falsely reported wages purportedly earned by the “taxpayers” and taxes purportedly withheld, to create the appearance that the “taxpayers” were entitled to tax refunds.
The fraudulent 1040 forms were created and filed electronically. By tracing the specific IP addresses that submitted the electronically-filed 1040s, law enforcement officers learned that just a handful of IP addresses created many of the fraudulent 1040 forms, which, in turn, led to the issuance of Tax Refund Treasury Checks that the conspirators obtained, sold, cashed, and spent.
Rodriguez and others then gained control of the refund checks, in various ways, which followed the pattern of a classic SIRF scheme. Sometimes, conspirators obtained Tax Refund Treasury Checks by bribing mail carriers, including defendant Benny Haynes, to intercept checks and deliver them to other conspirators. In exchange for cash payments, Haynes gave Tax Refund Treasury Checks to conspirators. In turn, these conspirators then sold these checks to yet other conspirators. Tax Refund Treasury Checks mailed to addresses along Haynes’ mail route in Somerset, N.J., were deposited into accounts controlled by Rodriguez and other conspirators.
Conspirators also purchased “mail routes,” that is, lists of addresses covered by a single mail carrier. Conspirators applied for Tax Refund Treasury Checks, inserted addresses along the mail route as the purported home addresses of the “taxpayers,” and obtained the Tax Refund Treasury Checks sent to the addresses. In other instances, the conspirators applied for checks using addresses otherwise controlled by, or accessible by, certain conspirators, and collected the checks after they were delivered to those addresses. During the course of the scheme, hundreds of Tax Refund Treasury Checks were mailed to just a few different addresses in a few different towns, including Nutley, Somerset and Newark, N.J., and Shirley, N.Y.
Certain conspirators then sold Tax Refund Treasury Checks to Rodriguez and others. After buying the Tax Refund Treasury Checks, Rodriguez and others deposited and cashed the checks. The conspirators used third parties (the “Straw Account Holders”), to open bank accounts at various banks in New Jersey and elsewhere. Once the Tax Refund Treasury Checks were deposited into the Straw Account Holders’ accounts or accounts controlled by conspirators, Rodriguez and others withdrew the funds. Rodriguez and others also obtained proceeds from Tax Refund Treasury Checks by causing checks to be cashed at check cashing institutions, and then causing the proceeds to be deposited into bank accounts controlled by conspirators.
During the course of the investigation, members of the New Jersey Task Force identified certain “hot spots” of activity related to the Scheme – that is, Conspirators were directing millions of dollars of Tax Refund Treasury Checks to just a few towns and cities in and around New Jersey. New Jersey Task Force members then interacted with U.S. Postal Service employees in these hot spots, and identified the characteristics of Tax Refund Treasury Checks connected to the scheme. As a result of these efforts, more than $22 million in fraudulently applied for Tax Refund Treasury Checks that had been issued by the U.S. Treasury were not delivered to the conspirators or others, but were interdicted by law enforcement officers.
Sentencing for both defendants is scheduled for June 5, 2013.
U.S. Attorney Fishman praised special agents of IRS-Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge Shantelle P. Kitchen; and inspectors of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, under the direction of Phillip R. Bartlett, with the investigation leading to today’s guilty pleas. He also thanked the special agents of the U.S. Secret Service, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge James Mottola; the Drug Enforcement Administration, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge Robert G. Koval; and HSI-ICE, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Andrew M. McLees, for their roles.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mala Ahuja Harker, Lakshmi Srinavasan Herman, Zach Intrater, and Danielle Walsman of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Division in Newark.