Former Bank Teller Sentenced To Prison For Cashing Fraudulently Obtained Tax Refund Checks

Cashed More Than 360 Checks Totaling More Than $780,000

WASHINGTON – A Columbus, Georgia resident was sentenced today to 18 months in prison for her role in a stolen identity refund fraud conspiracy, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Caroline D. Ciraolo of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and Acting U.S. Attorney G.F. Peterman, III for the Middle District of Georgia.

According to court documents, between February 2013 and May 2014, Vicky Wheeler, 55, worked as a bank teller at a SunTrust Bank branch in Columbus. Wheeler was approached by several co-conspirators who wanted her to cash fraudulently obtained tax refund checks in exchange for a fee. Wheeler was informed that the tax refund checks were generated from tax returns filed using stolen identities. To disguise the fraudulent nature of the checks, Wheeler made false entries on the face of the checks to make it appear as if she received identification when the checks were cashed. Wheeler never received any forms of identification. In total, Wheeler received and cashed approximately 361 fraudulent tax refund checks, including U.S. Treasury checks and tax refund checks issued by financial institutions that claimed $780,760.17 in tax refunds.

“The prosecution of stolen identity refund crimes remains a top priority of the department,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Ciraolo. “These cases are not limited to those individuals who file fictitious tax returns. We will vigorously pursue participants at all levels of these schemes, including those who steal identities and those who, like Ms. Wheeler, assist in cashing the refund checks that result from the fraud.”

“Stolen identity refund fraud results in major loss of revenue to the United States Government,” said Special Agent in Charge Veronica F. Hyman-Pillot of the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation’s (IRS-CI). “Vicky Wheeler abused her position of trust and allowed greed and deceit to fuel criminal behavior. Today she is being held accountable for her actions. Her prison sentence and restitution order should send a message that refund fraud, greed, and deceit does not payoff in the end.”

In addition to the prison term, U.S. District Judge Clay D. Land ordered Wheeler to serve three years of supervised release and pay restitution in the amount of $780,760.17.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Ciraolo and Acting U.S. Attorney Peterman commended special agents of IRS-CI and the U.S. Secret Service, who investigated the case and Trial Attorney Michael C. Boteler of the Tax Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Crawford L. Seals of the Middle District of Georgia, who prosecuted the case.

Additional information about the Tax Division and its enforcement efforts may be found on the division’s website.

Original PressReleases…

Former Bank Teller and Check Casher Indicted For Cashing Fraudulently Obtained Tax Refund Checks

WASHINGTON – A federal grand jury sitting in Macon, Georgia, returned two indictments today against residents of Columbus, Georgia, charging crimes related to several stolen identity tax refund fraud schemes, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Caroline D. Ciraolo of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and Acting U.S. Attorney G.F. Peterman, III, for the Middle District of Georgia.

Tonya Alexander is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit theft of public money and ten counts of theft of public money. The indictment alleges that, between June 2012 and December 2013, Alexander worked as a bank teller at SunTrust Bank in Columbus. Alexander was allegedly approached by several co-conspirators who wanted her to cash fraudulently obtained tax refund checks in exchange for a fee. The income tax refunds were generated by tax returns filed using stolen identities. It is further alleged that Alexander recruited another bank teller to assist her in cashing the fraudulent tax refund checks. In total, Alexander and her co-conspirators are alleged to have cashed over 500 tax refund checks that fraudulently claimed over $1 million in tax refunds.

George Rowell is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit theft of public money, seven counts of theft of public money and two counts of passing forged U.S. Treasury checks. The indictment alleges that between January 2013 and December 2013, Rowell owned and operated Big O’s Package Store located in Columbus. Rowell offered check cashing services at his store. Rowell was allegedly approached by several co-conspirators who wanted him to cash fraudulently obtained tax refund checks in exchange for a fee. The tax refunds were generated by tax returns filed using stolen identities. Rowell allegedly charged his co-conspirators 10 percent of the check’s face value and permitted at least one co-conspirator to forge the endorsement on the checks in his presence. In total, Rowell and his co-conspirators are alleged to have cashed over 250 tax refund checks worth more than $600,000.

If convicted, Alexander and Rowell each face a statutory maximum sentence of five years in prison for the conspiracy counts and 10 years in prison for each count of theft of public money. Rowell also faces a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for each count of passing a forged U.S. Treasury check. Both defendants also face monetary penalties, supervised release and restitution.

An indictment merely alleges that crimes have been committed. The defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Ciraolo and Acting U.S. Attorney Peterman commended special agents of Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation and the U.S. Secret Service, who investigated the cases and Trial Attorney Michael C. Boteler of the Tax Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Crawford L. Seals of the Middle District of Georgia, who are prosecuting the cases.

Additional information about the Tax Division and its enforcement efforts may be found on the division’s website.

Original PressReleases…

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