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Veterans on opposite sides of law in Tampa tax fraud case

TAMPA — Army officer Ryan Timoney volunteered for Afghanistan and then earned a Purple Heart when a suicide bomber attacked his unit in May 2012. He lost part of a leg, his body was riddled with metal, and a piece of his skull had to be removed.

David F. Lewis served in the military, too. He spent 15 years in the Air Force, his attorney says.

But that didn't stop Lewis, 50, from feeding a crack cocaine habit by trading identities of military service personnel — including Timoney — to a tax refund fraudster in exchange for drugs, federal authorities learned.

Lewis, a former administrative assistant at James A. Haley Veterans Hospital, is scheduled to be sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Tampa on charges of aggravated identity theft and access device fraud, punishable by up to 12 years in prison.

Timoney, 28, who grew up in the Jacksonville area, is expected to attend the sentencing hearing. If so, he will have the chance to tell U.S. District Judge Virginia M. Hernandez Covington how having his identity stolen has affected his life.

Such victim tales provide a window into the collateral damage of an illegal enterprise that has cost the Treasury billions while inconveniencing taxpayers by delaying legitimate returns.

Some, like Timoney, already have much on their plates.

On his personal website, he tells of waking up 12 days after the bomb blast but not truly regaining consciousness for two months. He was injured on May 20, 2012. He describes his injuries and, in a lighter moment, reports that learning to play the piano has helped him heal.

"Old brains can learn new tricks," he wrote.

According to the St. Augustine Record, he arrived at the Haley VA Hospital in June 2012 and celebrated his Purple Heart there with a cake two months later.

Meanwhile, the military past of defendant Lewis has already been brought up, in a motion filed last week by his attorney, Gino Lombardi of Sarasota. While in the Air Force, Lewis was deployed to Saudi Arabia and served in Operation Desert Shield, Lombardi wrote.

The Tampa Bay Times was unable to reach an Air Force official Wednesday to confirm the military service independently, but the attorney said he has seen the discharge papers.

He asked the judge to sentence Lewis to less than the guideline range, which is about seven to eight years. Lewis was first arrested at age 49 after a law-abiding life, Lombardi said, calling the offense "uncharacteristic" and blaming addiction.

In a November plea agreement, Lewis estimated that he printed 10 to 15 patient identity records to trade for crack on each of 20 occasions.

Some pages turned up during Tampa police drug investigations in August 2012 and February 2013. Lewis left a fingerprint on one record, and an unnamed co-conspirator left a palm print on another record.

The original 12-count indictment against Lewis alleged that 59 stolen Social Security numbers were used to file fraudulent income tax returns.

He admitted specifically to stealing the identity of a Navy veteran identified only by the initials E.B. Someone tried to get the IRS to pay a $5,888 refund, the plea agreement states. The agency did not pay. But in other cases, refunds were issued.

The government puts losses attributable to Lewis at $105,271, and obtained a judgment against him for that amount.

News researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Staff writer Patty Ryan can be reached at pryan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3382.

Veterans on opposite sides of law in Tampa tax fraud case 03/05/14 [Last modified: Thursday, March 6, 2014 10:14am]
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