ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Eleven foreign nationals were charged Thursday in a 90-count superseding federal indictment alleging they conspired to distribute cocaine and engaged in tax fraud, money laundering, identity theft and other financial crimes.
The indictment comes following a multi-agency Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDEF) investigation, stemming from an initial Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Anchorage police drug probe. The magnitude of the financial crimes, money laundering and identity theft, resulted in the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Criminal Investigations and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) taking a lead role.
According to the indictment, the Dominican and Mexican-national defendants engaged in a conspiracy to defraud the United States by filing false tax returns and illegally claiming millions of dollars in tax refunds. Investigators believe that between January and March the defendants conducted their scheme using names and Social Security numbers of individuals from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
"Today's indictment is a clear warning that anyone who steals the identities of innocent taxpayers and uses the information for personal profit will be aggressively pursued, investigated and prosecuted, in Alaska or throughout the United States," U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler said. "This case is an example of how interagency cooperation and teamwork can successfully bring down an entire organized criminal conspiracy."
Three laptop computers seized by investigators contained information for approximately $19 million in fraudulent refund claims, 2,600 stolen identities including individual names, Social Security numbers and other identity information. It is also alleged that one or more of the defendants obtained the physical addresses used on the tax returns by stealing mail from mailboxes in and around the Anchorage area.
The defendants obtained Alaska identification cards using the stolen identities, which were necessary to open the numerous bank accounts needed to cash their tax refund checks. They also falsely claimed to be U.S. citizens to obtain the identity documents and open the accounts.
"These criminals illegally posed as U.S. citizens and exploited our financial system for personal gain," said Brad Bench, special agent in charge of HSI Seattle, who oversees HSI investigations in Alaska. "By pooling our unique resources, legal authorities and expertise, HSI and the IRS were able to dismantle a significant scheme to defraud the people of the United States."
"The charges brought forth today against these 11 individuals serve as another reminder that IRS Criminal Investigation is aggressively pursuing those who choose to defraud the government and disrupt the lives of innocent taxpayers," stated Richard Weber, IRS Criminal Investigations chief.
"Drug traffickers' greed clearly has no limits, as evidenced by this investigation," said Douglas James DEA acting special agent in charge. "The DEA is proud of its partnership with the Anchorage Police Department, which brought this case to their federal counterparts, exposing this multi-faceted criminal organization."
The indictment also charges various defendants with submitting false claims for refund, possessing stolen mail, making false claims of U.S. citizenship, committing passport fraud, making false statements to banks and credit unions, and passing forged U.S. Treasury checks, as well as aggravated identity theft.
The fraud charges each carry maximum penalties of between two and 30 years imprisonment, in addition to the five-year mandatory minimum prison term required upon conviction on the drug charges.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service and U.S. State Department's Diplomatic Security Service also investigated. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Alaska and the U.S. Department of Justice Tax Division.
An indictment is merely a formal accusation. Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.