Ferrer said common criminals have joined the refund rackets because “it’s easy, it’s lucrative and it’s less dangerous.”
Today, thieves sell stolen personal information consisting of names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers to tax-fraud offenders for as much as $100 to $150 per ID, according to federal investigators. They also sell batches of 50 IDs or more for $500 to $1,000. The sellers can also receive a small commission of 5 to 10 percent from the fraudsters for each successful tax return, which can range from $1,000 to $10,000.
To stay under the radar, offenders fill out official 1040 income tax returns with stolen Social Security numbers, fabricated incomes on W-2 forms and other doctored employment information, tricking the IRS into issuing refunds before officials discover there is no matching paperwork filed by the purported employers.
“If the victims of ID theft are not filing their tax returns, there’s no duplication,” Jose “Tony” Gonzalez, special agent in charge of the IRS’ criminal investigations unit, told The Miami Herald. “By the time a red flag goes up, the tax refunds issued are long gone.”
Earlier this month, one group of defendants — Serge St. Vil, of Miami, Muller Pierre, of North Miami, and Finshley Fanor, of Lauderhill — were charged with filing phony 2010 tax returns in the names of 5,000 people, nearly all of whom were dead. Investigators suspect they obtained the information from online databases, such as Ancestry.com, which now have placed restrictions on access to Social Security numbers.
$6 million score
The three defendants submitted tax returns seeking $14 million, and the IRS issued refunds totaling more than $6 million. St. Vil “directed payment of the fraudulent tax-refund proceeds to bank accounts controlled” by him, Pierre and other co-conspirators, according to an indictment.
Among others arrested this month in the federal roundup: Lineten “Link” Belizaire, who had been charged in August with the Lauderdale Lakes killings of two women and a baby. He had been out on bond — home confinement with an ankle monitor — awaiting trial in Broward County.
Belizaire, 21, of Miami Gardens, pleaded not guilty to the January shooting deaths of Octavia Barnett, 21; Barnett’s roommate Natasha Plummer, 25; and Plummer’s 6-month-old boy, Carlton Stringer Jr.
Belizaire’s lawyer, Alex Michaels, accused U.S. authorities of “collusion” with state prosecutors to keep the murder defendant behind bars in the tax-fraud case. But Ferrer said the murder prosecution was unrelated to Belizaire’s federal indictment, which accused him, his uncle, Ernest Baldwin, and two other men of submitting hundreds of bogus tax refund claims totaling $1 million and requesting that payments be made on pre-paid debit cards.
The probe began earlier this year when police pulled over Belizaire’s uncle during a traffic stop in Hialeah and found five notebooks containing the names, birthdates and Social Security numbers of 1,300 people, including Miami-Dade high school students and disabled residents, federal prosecutor Michael Berger said during Belizaire’s bail hearing last week.
Berger said the notebook included evidence of Belizaire’s debit-card account with Walmart, and that investigators discovered he received 17 tax refunds on one pre-paid card totaling $28,000. Berger added police found a laptop computer in the uncle’s car that contained a picture of Belizaire holding cash in his hand.
“He committed the crime while he was out on bond on the state charges,” Berger told a magistrate judge.
Federal Magistrate Chris McAliley detained Belizaire without bail before trial, concluding he was a flight risk.
“I don’t know if you’re guilty of murder or not,” McAliley said. “That is not of my concern.”
After her decision, Belizaire’s mother shouted out in court: “My son will be proven innocent.”