Wide-Ranging Operation Filed Over 12,000 Fraudulent Tax Returns Seeking More Than $42 Million
WASHINGTON – A Maryland man was sentenced today to seven years in prison for his involvement in a scheme to fraudulently obtain millions of dollars in income tax refunds.
The announcement was made by Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division; U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu for the District of Columbia; Acting Special Agent in Charge Kelly R. Jackson of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Washington D.C. Field Office; Acting Inspector in Charge Eric Shen of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Washington Division and Assistant Inspector General for Investigations John L. Phillips of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
Antonio Cooper, 47, of Oxon Hill, Md., pled guilty in May 2016 to charges of conspiracy to commit theft of government funds, theft of public money, and aggravated identity theft.
Cooper was part of a massive sophisticated stolen identity refund fraud scheme that involved a network of more than 130 people, many of whom were receiving public assistance. Conspirators fraudulently claimed refunds for tax years 2005 through 2012, often in the names of people whose identities had been stolen, including the elderly, people in assisted living facilities, drug addicts and incarcerated prisoners. Returns were also filed in the names of, and refunds were issued to, willing participants in the scheme. The returns filed listed more than 400 “taxpayer” addresses located in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. According to court documents, the overall case involved the filing of at least 12,000 fraudulent federal income tax returns that sought at least $42 million in refunds.
Conspirators played various roles in the scheme: stealing identifying information; allowing their personal identifying information to be used; creating and mailing fraudulent federal tax returns; allowing their addresses to be used for receipt of the refund checks; cashing the refund checks; providing bank accounts into which the refund checks were deposited and forging endorsements of identity theft victims on the refund checks. The false returns typically reported inflated or fictitious income from a sole proprietorship and claimed phony dependents to generate an Earned Income Tax Credit, a refundable federal income tax credit for working families with low to moderate incomes. To date, approximately two dozen participants in this scheme have pleaded guilty, and three have been convicted by a trial jury.
According to the government’s evidence, Cooper actively participated in the scheme from approximately February 2010 through July 2012. He also recruited others to do so. As he admitted in Court, Cooper played an integral part in the overall conspiracy; he, his friends, and his family members defrauded the IRS out of more than $2 million through the receipt of fraudulently obtained income tax refund checks. Among other things, Cooper used others’ addresses to receive checks, bought personal identifying information needed to complete tax forms, and cashed some of the fraudulently-obtained tax refund checks.
In addition to the term of prison imposed, U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer ordered Cooper to serve three years of supervised release and to pay $2,420,241 in restitution to the IRS. She also ordered a forfeiture money judgment $806,747.
Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Zuckerman, U.S. Attorney Liu, Acting Special Agent in Charge Jackson, Acting Inspector in Charge Shen and Assistant Inspector General Phillips commended the special agents who conducted the investigation and acknowledged the efforts of those who worked on the case from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of Columbia, including former Assistant U.S. Attorney Sherri L. Schornstein; Assistant U.S. Attorney Chrisellen Kolb; Paralegal Specialists Aisha Keys and Donna Galindo; former Paralegal Specialists Jessica Mundi and Julie Dailey; Litigation Technology Specialist Ron Royal; Investigative Analysts William Hamann and Zachary McMenamin, and Victim/Witness Advocate Tonya Jones. They also expressed appreciation for the work of Trial Attorneys Jeffrey B. Bender, Thomas F. Koelbl, and Jessica Moran of the Tax Division, who worked on the case.
Finally, they commended the work of Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ellen Chubin Epstein and Michelle Bradford of the District of Columbia’s Fraud and Public Corruption Section and Trial Attorney Kimberly G. Ang of the Tax Division, who prosecuted the case, as well as Assistant U.S. Attorney Diane Lucas, who assisted with forfeiture issues.
Additional information about the Tax Division’s enforcement efforts can be found on the division’s website.