Three People Charged in Stolen Identity Refund Fraud Scheme
CAMDEN, N.J. – Three people were arrested today for their alleged roles in an extensive scheme to obtain money through fraudulently obtained refund checks issued by the U.S. Treasury, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.
Jorge Gutierrez, 39, of Merchantville, New Jersey; Alberto Sanchez, 34, of Camden; and Roque Bisono, 29, of Maple Shade, New Jersey, were indicted by a grand jury for conspiring to defraud the United States, theft of government funds, and aggravated identity theft. Sanchez was additionally indicted on witness tampering charges, and Bisono was indicted for making false statements to federal law enforcement officials in connection with the investigation. They appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel Schneider in Camden federal court.
A fourth defendant, Awilda Henriquez, 32, of Camden, remains at large.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
Stolen Identity Refund Fraud (SIRF) is a common type of fraud committed against the United States government that involves the use of stolen identities to commit tax refund fraud. SIRF schemes generally share a number of hallmarks. 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. They then complete Form 1040 tax returns using the fraudulently obtained information and falsifying wages earned, taxes withheld, and other data, always ensuring that the fraudulent tax return generates a refund. They direct the U.S. Treasury Department to mail refund checks to locations that the perpetrators control or can access. With the fraudulently obtained refund checks in hand, SIRF perpetrators generate cash proceeds by depositing the checks into bank accounts that they control or cashing the checks at check cashing businesses.
For the 2013 tax year, in excess of 3,300 SIRF tax returns were filed using the names and Social Security numbers of residents of Puerto Rico, where the refunds were directed to be mailed to a small section of Pennsauken, New Jersey. Of the 3,300 returns filed, several refund checks were issued and ultimately cashed at check cashing agencies in New Jersey, Philadelphia, and New York using false and fraudulent identifications, including fake New Jersey driver's licenses, fake Social Security cards, and fake Department of Homeland Security Permanent Resident Identification cards.
Gutierrez, Bisono, Sanchez, and their conspirators allegedly obtained stolen identities of residents of Puerto Rico and used them to file fraudulent income tax returns seeking refunds to which they were not entitled. The conspirators recruited mail carriers from the U.S. Postal Service as part of the scheme to steal the tax refund checks from the mail. The mail carriers were paid for every U.S Treasury check that was stolen. The conspirators paid “check couriers” to cash the tax refund checks in a variety of ways, including at check cashing businesses in and around Camden, New Jersey. The check couriers presented fraudulent identifications at the check cashing businesses matching the names on the tax refund checks in order to cash the checks. In total, the scheme caused $565,091 in losses to the U.S. Treasury.
The counts of conspiracy to steal government funds are punishable by up to five years in prison. The counts of theft of government funds are punishable by a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison. The count of false statements is punishable by imprisonment of up to five years. The witness tampering count is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The count of aggravated identity theft is punishable a statutory mandatory prison sentence of two years that must be served consecutively to any term of imprisonment imposed for the violation of any other count. All the counts are also punishable by a fine of up to $250,000, or twice the gain or loss caused by the offense.
U.S. Attorney Carpenito credited special agents of IRS-Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Jonathan D. Larsen in Newark and Special Agent in Charge Vicki S. Duane in Philadelphia, and special agents of the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General, with assistance from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, under the direction of Inspector in Charge Daniel B. Brubaker, Philadelphia Division, with the investigation leading to today’s charges and arrests.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jason M. Richardson and Christina O. Hud of the Criminal Division, Camden.
The charges and allegations in the indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.