On Monday, September 15, a press release was issued by U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade in reference to two Detroit residents who have pleaded guilty to defrauding the Internal Revenue Service by using the identities of individuals who are deceased.
According to the press release, Adreann Turnage and Brenda Knight, both of Detroit, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting in the use of false identification, and wire fraud. Special agents of the IRS Criminal Investigation unit conducted the investigation, including Acting Special Agent in Charge Jarod Koopman.
The two women, along with Knight’s husband Willie Watkins and others, devised a scheme using the social security numbers and names of people who had recently died to collect tax refunds. In 2010, those involved in the scheme filed hundreds of fraudulent tax returns which resulted in more than $1 million in refunds. In filling out the tax returns, those involved used the Making America Work Credit, Earned Income Credit, and Education Credits in order to get refunds which were then deposited into bank accounts that were set up solely for receiving the tax refunds. Watkins, Knight’s husband, had control over many of the bank accounts. Some of the tax returns were filed electronically via an account on the Internet set up in Turnage’s name. The group used public Internet access to electronically transmit many of the returns from coffee shops and hotels.
Knight and Turnage may face substantial prison time along with thousands of dollars in fines for their participation in the fraudulent tax scheme. Using false identification for the purpose of committing a violation of federal law will result in prison time of up to 15 years and/or fines of up to $250,000 for those found guilty. A maximum of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both may be handed down by the court for wire fraud.
Jarod Koopman warned that the investigation of identity theft is a top priority of the IRS – Criminal Investigation unit. In addition, McQuade urged family members to practice vigilance in protecting the private information (including taxpayer information) of deceased loved ones.
Tax fraud is a very serious crime, leaving those who are convicted or who plead guilty facing severe criminal penalties. However, there are occasions on which innocent people are accused of these types of crimes, or other white collar crimes including money laundering or embezzling. No matter what the circumstances are, the first step anyone should take when under investigation or facing criminal charges is to contact an aggressive and capable Michigan criminal defense attorney. A seasoned criminal lawyer will work to secure the best possible results, no matter futile the situation may seem.