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Financial Crimes

24 indicted for allegedly participating in $2.3 million tax refund conspiracy

CHICAGO - Twenty-three new defendants are facing federal charges, along with a Skokie, Ill., man who was arrested in April, for allegedly conspiring since 2008 to claim more than $2.35 million in fraudulent federal income tax refunds and economic stimulus payments. The charges resulted from an investigation conducted by the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Criminal Investigation Division, and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Each of the 24 defendants was charged with one count of conspiracy to steal federal funds and defraud the IRS, and one or more counts of theft of government funds. The charges were contained in two separate federal grand jury indictments that were unsealed after six of the defendants were arrested on Tuesday.

All two dozen defendants allegedly shared the proceeds of IRS tax refunds, totaling more than $1.3 million, by withdrawing the tax funds deposited into co-defendants' bank accounts, knowing that they were not entitled to the fraudulently obtained refunds.

The indictments followed the April arrest of Ovidiu Isac, 28, of Skokie, who allegedly directed the conspiracy. Isac and other defendants allegedly recruited co-conspirators to open bank accounts, withdraw the deposited tax refunds and stimulus payments, and share the proceeds.

The following six defendants were arrested July 13: Ovidiu Isac's brother, Daniel Isac, 25, of Mount Prospect, Ill.; Vasile George Husti, 19, of Chicago; John Pop, 25, of Bellevue, Wash., and formerly of Chicago; Marius Timofti, 26, of Chicago; and Cristian Talos, 31, and his wife, Virginia Talos, 27, both of Bothel, Wash., and formerly of Chicago.

The following 17 were also indicted: Louis Lupancu, 22, of Chicago; Daniel Garbacz, 21, of Burbank, Ill.; Miklos Ilyes, 47, of Chicago; Tomasz Mulica, 23, of Burbank; Costel Niculcea, 25, of Burbank; Stefan Valentin Niculcea, 28, of Burbank; Andrei Stanciu, 26, of Chicago; Ilie Stramturean, 26, of Chicago; Eugen Marius Szasz, 31, of Chicago; Marius Vainoras, 20, of Chicago Ridge; James McKibbin, 20, of Chicago; Bogdan Branisteanu, 28, of Chicago; Valeriu Soare, 27, of Skokie; Anca Andronache, 25, of Schiller Park, Ill.; Maribel Juarez, 24, of Chicago; Simona Laba, 23, of Chicago; and Anuta Mihai, 26, of Arlington Heights, Ill.

According to the indictments, individual tax returns contained the names of Romanian nationals, including Romanian citizens who had traveled to the United States on "J-1" exchange visitor visas. The tax returns included false W-2s showing employment income and false deductions, resulting in fraudulent claims for tax refunds. The indictments allege that for the tax years 2007, 2008 and 2009, more than 440 fraudulent tax returns were filed directing the IRS to electronically deposit the refunds in bank accounts primarily in the Chicago area.

Some of the defendants allegedly recruited individuals who agreed to open bank accounts, or use their existing bank accounts, to receive tax refunds and economic stimulus payments. When Ovidiu Isac or another recruiter notified the account holder that a refund had been deposited, the account holders typically withdrew the money, shared it with the recruiter, and kept some for themselves.

The conspiracy count carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine; each count of theft of government funds carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. In addition, restitution is mandatory to the United States for the amount of tax refunds and stimulus payments fraudulently obtained.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Julie Porter, John Hauser and Matthew Burke, Northern District of Illinois, are prosecuting the case. The investigation is ongoing.

The public is reminded that indictments contain only charges and are not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.