TAMPA — Two guilty pleas entered in federal court Tuesday hint at the scope and organization of the recently exposed spate of criminals filing fraudulent tax returns to scam the IRS.
The Government Accountability Office reported this year the number of identity theft cases involving tax fraud detected by the IRS more than quadrupled since 2008 to 248,357 in 2010.
Just two weeks ago, postal inspectors announced they had seized 10,000 fraudulent refunds totaling more than $100 million in a year and a half in Tampa.
On Tuesday, in a tax fraud scheme in Orlando, former U.S. Postal Service carrier Carmelo Rosado Jr., 40, of Orlando and another man, Victor Pena, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit theft or receipt of stolen mail. Rosado also pleaded guilty to bribery of a public official.
Postal Service inspectors can't pinpoint how long the scam was going on, but they believe that since at least 2010 someone had been filing tax returns using the Social Security numbers of residents in Puerto Rican and having refund checks mailed to the continental United Sates.
Puerto Ricans are not required to file federal income tax returns if their incomes are derived from Puerto Rican sources, according to a federal complaint affidavit.
Rosado was supposed to be paid $200 to $300 per fraudulent check for providing someone with a group of addresses to have the U.S. Treasury checks mailed to, and for intercepting the checks to deliver to a courier, his plea agreement said. On March 7, Rosado arrived at the Chapel Trace Apartments in Orlando with 68 Treasury checks worth $509,017 scheduled to be delivered to 68 residents there.
Authorities checked the mailboxes and found he had not delivered the checks. He confessed to hiding the checks meant to be delivered to the person who recruited him for the scheme, the affidavit said. Investigators had Rosado deliver the checks to make contact with his co-conspirator, then took back the checks.
When the co-conspirator had not delivered the checks to a higher up by April, men from New York including Pena were paid to drive to Orlando and get the money. Pena said he was paid $1,500 to retrieve the checks for a man in New York and threatened the co-conspirator to get the Treasury checks from him.
Investigators let the co-conspirator deliver the checks on April 5. After the drop, they picked up Pena and two other men, the affidavit said. Pena admitted to picking up the package for a man who has not been indicted, according to federal court records.
Privacy issues prevent the IRS from disclosing personal and tax information to local law enforcement agencies investigating theft cases. Limited resources keep the IRS from investigating all of the nearly a quarter-million cases of suspected identity theft its discovers each year. According to the GAO, the IRS investigated only 4,700 cases of any type in 2010.
But when offenders are caught, stiff penalties can be levied. Rosado is facing a maximum of 20 years in federal prison.
Pena could be sentenced to five years in prison.