Man who won $2 million settlement from Sweetwater cop beating pleads guilty to fraud

12/17/2013 2:06 PM

12/17/2013 5:49 PM

A Miami-Dade man who won a $2 million settlement from the city of Sweetwater after cops beat him up in custody a decade ago pleaded guilty Tuesday to possessing stolen Social Security card numbers used for filing false income-tax returns.

Peter Michael Daniel, 29, squandered his settlement and resorted to stealing dozens of people’s identity numbers in a scam that netted more that $40,000 in fraudulent tax refunds, authorities say.

Daniel was among 45 local offenders charged in October with ID theft and tax fraud, a massive take-down that signaled the viral spread of the dual crimes in South Florida.

Daniel faces up to a year and a half in prison at his sentencing on Feb.18 before U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks. But his plea agreement would allow him to get a further sentence reduction because he is providing incriminating information about co-conspirators.

The one-time operator of a personal-watercraft rental business —whose previous brush with the law was over an Jet Ski reported stolen in Sweetwater — told a magistrate judge in October that he had no money or assets. The magistrate assigned a federal public defender to represent him.

Daniel and his lawyer, Abigail Becker, declined to comment. Daniel’s father, Roberto, also chose not to talk after the plea hearing.

In October, a Herald reporter asked the father what his son had done with all the settlement money from the city of Sweetwater. “I don’t know,” the father said. “He was very young when he got the money. He just went through it. He has nothing.”

On Tuesday, Daniel pleaded guilty to a charge of possessing at least 15 Social Security numbers belonging to others. Those numbers are typically used or sold for filing phony tax returns, though Daniel was not charged with defrauding the Internal Revenue Service.

The reason: Daniel has been cooperating with authorities ever since he was stopped for a traffic violation in Lee County in 2012, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gera Peoples said in court. He turned over a bunch of American Express pre-paid cards loaded with fraudulently obtained tax refunds and admitted it. He also revealed a list of 81 stolen Social Security numbers, including dozens that were used to score tax refunds on the Amex cards.

Daniel and 44 other defendants from Homestead to Pompano Beach were charged in October with collectively filing $38.6 million in bogus tax-refund claims. The IRS paid out $11.5 million in refunds. In the latest sweep, more than 22,000 identities had been stolen.

That brought the total number of South Florida arrests since last year to about 270. Prosecutors calculate the defendants were responsible for $449 million in fraudulent tax-refund claims, $97 million in IRS payments, and 76,700 stolen identities.

Also significant: IRS criminal investigators have suspended a total of 70 “electronic filing ID numbers” that allow individuals to file tax returns on behalf of other taxpayers. Those numbers were used to file 53,900 fraudulent tax-refund claims. These numbers are normally used to file legitimate returns by accountants and other tax preparers.

Perpetrators in South Florida, Tampa and other regions of the country routinely steal the names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of people, including prisoners, the poor and even children. They are attractive targets because they don’t file income tax returns. As a result, the IRS can’t detect duplicate filings.

Among the notable offenders: Two Miami police officers convicted in October of stealing people’s identities from the Florida drivers’ license database to file fraudulent tax-refund claims.

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.

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