TAMPA — A former Tampa Housing Authority worker who let a friend tap into the agency's Internet service to steal from the IRS should serve 27 months in prison, a judge said Wednesday.
Leah Lang, 43, and Patricia Shaw, 37, used a community relations office at the Robles Park Village public housing complex — Lang's jobsite — to transmit 20 of 22 fraudulent claims for tax refunds in 2009, court records state. They had the U.S. Treasury put $101,823 into a bank account that Lang kept in the name of a youth jump rope team called the Double Dutch Connection, which had traveled to New York.
Lang, hired to link residents to social programs, was supposed to be a role model for kids.
"I don't know where the moral compass is when you can so blatantly steal from your country in the manner you have," U.S. District Judge James Whittemore told her Wednesday as family and supporters listened.
Minutes earlier, in brief remarks, Lang apologized — to victims, to her family, to other people's children and to the Housing Authority that hired her despite a felony record.
"What bothers her the most," defense attorney Adam Allen told the judge, "is that there are children in that community that looked up to her."
Lang had been on her own since age 16, born fatherless because of an accidental shooting and left motherless by drug addiction, Allen said in court.
Whittemore already knew about the extensive criminal record that followed. In her 20s, Lang served three prison terms, convicted of robbery, grand theft and aggravated battery.
Her record shows no arrests during her 2005-2009 Housing Authority employment.
Whittemore said Lang's childhood doesn't excuse her conduct.
"Time and time again," he said, "you have engaged in theft."
He expressed surprise that the Housing Authority hired Lang, given her criminal record, and he questioned whether she should have been a role model for kids.
Jerome Ryans, president and chief executive officer of the Housing Authority, said some of the same things when contacted by the Tampa Bay Times after the sentencing.
"Frankly, I think she had an opportunity and she blew that opportunity," he said. "At the end of the day, I don't want to judge everybody the same way, but I do think it makes it difficult — not just for the Housing Authority but anybody else — to want to give second and third chances."
In addition to the prison sentence, Lang was ordered to pay restitution, jointly with Shaw, in the amount of $101,823. The government has recovered much of that already. A bank froze the account after $36,900 in withdrawals.
Shaw took a plea deal in 2011 and has already served her time.
Neither woman faced a now-common federal charge of aggravated identity theft. Some tax returns were filed using the identities of people who volunteered them but objected when they didn't get a promised cut, records show.
By the time Lang arrived at the 13th floor of the Sam M. Gibbons U.S. Courthouse for her 2:30 p.m. hearing Wednesday, another tax fraud case had hit a milestone that morning, two floors below.
This one had some historical significance.
Marterrence "Quat" Holloway, 33, pleaded guilty to aggravated identity theft, access device fraud and conspiracy to defraud the Treasury. His sentencing is not yet scheduled.
In September 2010, warrants for Holloway's arrest led Tampa police to a Howard Johnson motel room on 50th Street — the scene of a fraudulent tax refund filing party — and opened a city's eyes to the exploding underground crime.
Staff writer Patty Ryan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3382.