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Financial Crimes

14 charged in $65 million income tax refund fraud scheme

NEWARK, N.J. – One of the nation's largest and longest running stolen identity tax refund fraud schemes – involving more than 8,000 fraudulent U.S. income tax returns seeking $65 million in illicit refunds – has been shut down by a New Jersey-based task force.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents assisted in the investigation as part of the New Jersey Financial Crimes Task Force.

Fourteen people were charged Wednesday with conspiracy to defraud the United States and substantive counts of theft of government property, which resulted in $11.3 million in losses. They were arrested as part of a coordinated investigation by a New Jersey-based task force that includes IRS-Criminal Investigation and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS).

Ten of the defendants made their initial appearances before U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph A. Dickson Sept. 19 in Newark federal court while other defendants will be making their appearances in out-of-state federal courts including: New York; Grand Rapids, Mich.; and Greensboro, N.C. One defendant is already in custody in Texas on unrelated charges.

"The New Jersey Financial Crimes Task Force has proven to be an effective tool in dismantling criminal organizations that threaten the financial stability of our nation," said Andrew McLees, special agent in charge of HSI Newark. "Today's arrest exemplifies that HSI stands on the front line of financial crimes and continues proactive cooperation with our federal law enforcement partners to serve as a unified force in the fight against these illegal financial schemes that have far-reaching impact."

"The defendants in this case allegedly tried to steal $65 million using stolen identities to obtain refunds to which they were not entitled," U.S. Attorney Fishman said. "No matter how sophisticated, these crimes are pure theft. They victimize all members of the public, especially those whose identities are stolen."

"These types of tax fraud schemes have been around for many years," USPIS Inspector in Charge Phillip R. Bartlett said. "The Postal Inspection Service noted a significant increase in tax refund fraud schemes approximately three years ago and formed the New Jersey Financial Crimes Task Force in an effort to identify, disrupt and dismantle organized groups engaged in these schemes."

"Using stolen identities to file fraudulent tax returns seeking bogus refunds is a serious crime that we do not take lightly at the IRS," Richard Weber, chief, IRS-Criminal Investigation, said. "The refund fraud alleged in today's complaints was highly organized and relied on many willing accomplices. IRS-Criminal Investigation has made investigating refund fraud and identity theft a top priority and we will relentlessly pursue those who attempt to undermine the integrity of our tax system."

According to the criminal complaints, Stolen Identity Refund Fraud (SIRF) is a common type of fraud that results in more than $2 billion in losses annually to the U.S. Treasury. 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. (Puerto Rican citizens are issued Social Security numbers, but are not required to pay federal income tax unless they derive income from United States-based companies or from the United States government. These Social Security numbers are a valuable commodity for perpetrators of SIRFs, because they are usually not already associated with a tax return.)
  • Participants complete and file – frequently filing electronically – individual income tax returns using the fraudulently-obtained information, and falsifying wages earned, taxes withheld and other data. Perpetrators make it appear that the "taxpayers" listed on the fraudulent returns are entitled to tax refunds.
  • Perpetrators direct the U.S. Treasury Department to issue the refunds through tax refund Treasury checks generated by the fraudulent tax returns to locations they control or can access.

Recognizing the seriousness of the problem, federal law enforcement agencies created a multi-agency task force in New Jersey led by investigators from the IRS and the USPIS, along with support from the U.S. Secret Service, HSI and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The task force has revealed that at least as early as 2007, dozens of individuals in the New Jersey and New York area have been engaged in a large-scale, long-running SIRF scheme involving more than 8,000 fraudulent U.S. income tax returns seeking $65 million in illicit refunds and with losses to the United States government of more than $11.3 million.

The scheme was carried out by Jose Torres, aka Jose Quilestorres, 46, of Bronx, N.Y.; Roberto Diaz, 44, of Demarest, N.J.; Elian Matlovsky, 27, of New York; Porfirio Paredes,44, of Hazelton, Pa.; Rosa Marmol, 34, of Grand Rapids, Mich.; Luis Martinez, 47, of Matthews, N.C.; Ennio Guzman, 44, and Alejandro Javier, 50, both of Newark, N.J.; David Pinski, 73, of Fort Lee, N.J.; Michael Senatore, 41, of Moscow, Pa.; Rosario Terzulli, 38, of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Manuel Rodriguez, 50, of New Brunswick, N.J.; Rigoberto Torres aka R. Torres, 40, of New Brunswick, N.J., and others.

The complaints set forth the specific role that each conspirator played in the scheme, including obtaining the personal identifying information from Puerto Rican citizens, creating and filing the fraudulent 1040 forms, and obtaining, selling, depositing and cashing the tax refund Treasury checks.

Torres, Rodriguez and others gained control of refund checks in various ways, following the pattern of a classic SIRF scheme. Sometimes they bribed mail carriers to intercept checks and deliver them to other conspirators. One mail carrier, Bennie Haynes, who delivered mail along a route in Somerset, N.J., has previously been charged.

Torres and others also purchased "mail routes," that is, lists of addresses covered by a single mail carrier, from other conspirators, including Diaz. Once the mail route was purchased, Torres and others applied for tax refund checks, inserted addresses along the mail route as the purported home addresses of the "taxpayers," and obtained the checks sent to those addresses.

Hundreds of refund checks were mailed to just a few addresses in a few towns, including Nutley, Somerset and Newark, N.J., and Shirley, N.Y.

They induced third parties or straw account holders to open bank accounts at various banks in New Jersey and elsewhere or caused the checks to be cashed at check cashing businesses, and the proceeds deposited into bank accounts controlled by conspirators.

Members of the task force identified certain "hot spots" of activity related to the scheme, where conspirators were directing millions of dollars' worth of refund checks to just a few towns and cities in and around New Jersey. The task force members interacted with U.S. Postal Service employees in these hot spots, and more than $22 million worth of refund checks – fraudulently applied for – were interdicted by law enforcement officers.

The complaints also include forfeiture allegations seeking the seizure of more than $11 million in ill-gotten gains, including luxury autos that were seized.

The charges and allegations contained in the complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.