Rodney St. Fleur admitted in federal court Friday that he stole thousands of Social Security numbers of prison inmates through LexisNexis database searches at his employer’s law office in North Miami.
St. Fleur then sold the valuable digits to a gang member accused of filing millions of dollars’ worth of fabricated tax-refund claims in the prisoners’ names.
For his crime, St. Fleur, 28, was slapped with the stiffest punishment yet in South Florida for an identity-theft, tax-refund fraud offender: 13 years in prison.
Federal prosecutor Michael Berger described St. Fleur’s and similar tax-refund scams as “out of control,” comparing the crime wave to Miami’s cocaine-cowboy days of the 1980s.
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U.S. District Judge Robert Scola imposed the maximum 10-year sentence against St. Fleur, who lives in West Park, for conspiring to defraud the U.S. government, plus a mandatory two more years for aggravated identity theft and another year for possessing debit cards downloaded with tax refunds.
At his sentencing, St. Fleur was held accountable for providing the Social Security numbers of some 23,000 prisoners and others to one-time North Miami gang member Frantz Pierre in 2010-11. Pierre, now a resident of Parkland, was not identified in court.
Pierre, 32, and other members of his ring, accused of providing lists of names and birth dates to St. Fleur, were charged separately last year in connection with the conspiracy.
Berger told the judge that Internal Revenue Service agents found a list of 3,000 names and birth dates, along with their Social Security numbers provided by St. Fleur, in the former gang leader’s home in Broward County.
St. Fleur was also held liable for more than $11 million in tax-refund fraud, although Berger said in theory the actual figure could be greater than $100 million because of the sheer volume of fraudulent returns.
St. Fleur, who apologized to the judge for his wrongdoing, must surrender May 6 to begin his prison sentence. He pleaded guilty in November.
Also Friday, three members of another group — Serge St. Vil, 62, of North Miami; Muller Pierre, 62, of North Miami Beach, and Finshley Fanor, 34, of Lauderhill — pleaded guilty before Judge Scola to fraud charges that stemmed from the filing of fabricated 2010 tax returns in the names of 5,000 people, nearly all of whom were dead.
The claims sought $14 million in tax refunds. The IRS deposited $6 million in refunds into their bank accounts. Investigators suspect the defendants obtained the information from online databases, such as Ancestry.com, which now have placed restrictions on access to Social Security numbers.
St. Fleur’s sentencing and the three guilty pleas Friday followed the arrest this week of convicted Miami-Dade drug trafficker Frankie Jermaine Anderson, 40, on similar charges. Anderson discovered how to make a quick buck by cashing $12 million in fraudulent tax-refund checks at a Perrine business over five months last year.
Perpetrators in South Florida, Tampa and other regions of the country are stealing the identities of various people — including prisoners, the dead, the poor and even children — who don’t file income tax returns in order to avoid having the IRS detect duplicate filings, authorities say. They also swipe people’s IDs to file phony tax returns.
Miami has the country’s highest rate of ID theft, which drives tax-refund scams.
Combined, the schemes have robbed the U.S. government of billions of dollars yearly since the crime began spreading in 2008, according to a Treasury Department report.
In the past year, the U.S. attorney’s office says it has charged 125 defendants accused of about $138 million in tax-refund fraud.