South Florida

These South Florida scammers stole identities, then millions from the IRS

When it comes to ripping off the U.S. government, it’s the oldest trick in the book: Steal someone’s identity, submit a fake income-tax return and take the refund payment to a local check-cashing store that looks the other way.

Yant Garcia, however, took the scheme to another level.

And the Internal Revenue Service fell for it dozens of times as the agency paid out individual check refunds ranging from $130,000 to $170,000. In total, the IRS paid $4.3 million to Garcia and his crew of South Florida co-conspirators, prosecutors say.

Garcia, 38, of Hialeah, faces up to five years in prison at his sentencing in mid-November after pleading guilty last week in federal court to conspiring against the U.S. government between 2012 and 2015. Garcia admitted that he led a ring that cashed the ill-gotten tax refunds at a check-cashing store in Hialeah called Minimalist, according to court records. The store charged a handling fee of at least 30 percent on each transaction.

But Garcia and his partners did not stop with the tax-refund scam. Garcia admitted that in 2015, the group submitted a phony loan application and obtained $3.7 million for a mortgage on a Miami Beach property, court records show. After the proceeds were sent to a bogus title company in Miami, Garcia said he wrote checks to his associates using other people’s names. They then cashed them at local check-cashing stores.

While the IRS has made efforts to stem tax-refund scams in South Florida — the nation’s capital of fraud — they continue to plague the region, prosecutors say.

In late August, a Miami pair were sentenced to prison for filing about 1,000 tax returns in other people’s names with their Social Security numbers while seeking $7 million in fraudulent refunds. The IRS electronically paid out about $1.5 million to bank accounts controlled by the two defendants, Frantz Silvene, and Myriam Gisme.

After both pleaded guilty in federal court, Silvene, 34, was sentenced to seven years in prison and Gisme, 38, to more than four years.