Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Former Tampa Housing employee charged with tax fraud on work computer

TAMPA — A former employee of the Tampa Housing Authority is under federal indictment, accused of using the public agency's computers and Internet service to file fraudulent claims for federal tax refunds.

Leah Lang, 43, arrested Friday, worked for the Housing Authority for five years, from 2005 to 2009, based in a community relations office at Robles Park Village.

The government alleges that she conspired with others in 2009 and submitted six false tax refund claims totaling $30,852.60. The grand jury indictment, issued in August but kept sealed until recently, does not name anyone else. The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to provide further details.

The refunds were for sums higher than what filers were owed by the IRS. They went into a bank account Lang opened in January 2009.

She was not charged with identity theft. The indictment's unusual wording appears to leave open the possibility of interaction between her, the alleged coconspirators and the legitimate owners of the identities used to file.

She and others "would and did refuse to provide these funds to the taxpayers in whose names the defendant and her coconspirators had submitted false income tax returns," the document states.

Lang pleaded not guilty Friday in U.S. District Court before Magistrate Judge Anthony E. Porcelli and was detained pending trial.

"Ms. Lang maintains her innocence," said Howard C. Anderson, a federal public defender who represented her at the hearing.

Lang's appearance in federal court interrupted a county jail sentence.

She was serving six months in Hillsborough for the February theft of $4,452 worth of clothing from Dillard's at International Plaza. Six months ago, the Collier County Sheriff's Office charged her with identity fraud and grand theft. Four months ago, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office charged her with larceny.

In her 20s, Lang served three prison sentences in Florida, with convictions for robbery, grand theft and aggravated battery.

All three sentences predate her employment at the Housing Authority. State records show 18 arrests before her employment and seven arrests afterward, with no arrests during her five years on the job at Robles Park.

Robles Park is a public housing complex in the heart of Tampa, west of Interstate 275 and south of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

One unit had been converted into a Housing Authority office, and that's where Lang worked. Her job was to connect residents to social services, said Lillian Stringer, public relations director for the Housing Authority. Lang would have been expected to tell families about public benefits, pass along job referrals and help children with homework.

"Filing tax returns was definitely not a part of what she was supposed to be doing over there," Stringer said.

The Tampa Bay Times attempted to reach Housing Authority president and CEO Jerome Ryans to discuss the federal charges against Lang. He asked Stringer to respond to the inquiry and she did.

She said the agency knew little about the IRS' interest in Lang or the Robles Park community relations office.

"Last summer the IRS came over there and they took all of the computers from that center and said they were going to sweep them, and they brought all of the computers back and did not share any additional information," Stringer said. "That's all we know."

She could not recall anyone else working with Lang at the site.

The agency cooperated with investigators, she said.

"We have over 300 employees. It's impossible for even Jerome to know what a person's doing on a day-to-day basis on computers," she said.

It's unclear whether Lang's criminal history was considered when she was hired. When the Times attempted to pose that question later Friday afternoon, neither Ryans nor Stringer could be reached for comment.

The Housing Authority's website currently advertises a job opening for a receptionist, with a starting pay of $17,809 a year. It warns that applicants will need to pass a background screening.

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

Former Tampa Housing employee charged with tax fraud on work computer 02/08/13 [Last modified: Saturday, February 9, 2013 12:27am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Editorial: Making tax increases harder would sentence Florida to mediocrity

    Editorials

    Florida has one of the lowest state tax burdens in the nation, a long list of unmet needs and a Republican-controlled state government that treats any talk of a tax increase as heresy. Yet Gov. Rick Scott wants voters to approve a constitutional amendment to make it even harder for the Legislature to raise taxes. That's …

    Gov. Rick Scott wants voters to approve a constitutional amendment to make it even harder for the Legislature to raise taxes. That’s election-year pandering, not leadership.
  2. What happens if you look at the eclipse without glasses? Want a hole in your vision?

    Science

    It's the burning question of the week.

    The solar eclipse Monday will be quite the Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson moment for Americans to share. The idea is to walk away without frying your eyeballs.

    Colton Hammer tries out his new eclipse glasses he just bought from the Clark Planetarium in Salt Lake City on Wednesday in preparation for the eclipse on Monday. [Scott G Winterton | Deseret News via AP]
  3. Waterspout forms between Caladesi and Dunedin

    Environment

    A waterspout formed between Caladesi Island and Dunedin earlier today.

    A waterspout formed between Caladesi Island and Dunedin. [Photo via YouTube]
  4. Contractor sues Tampa over troubled Watrous Canal repair project

    Local Government

    TAMPA — City Hall is being sued by the company it hired for a $3.2 million canal-repair project that ran into problems, plaguing neighborhoods along West Shore Boulevard with road closures and traffic delays even as its cost rose by 45 percent.

    A project to repair and improve the Watrous Canal closed West Shore Boulevard last year and is now the subject of a lawsuit between the contractor, Pac Comm of Miami, and the city of Tampa. CHRIS URSO   |   Times (2016)

  5. Salvation Army, Red Cross, Susan G. Komen abandon Trump's Mar-a-Lago

    National

    The Salvation Army, the American Red Cross and Susan G. Komen on Friday joined a growing exodus of organizations canceling plans to hold fundraising events at the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, deepening the financial impact to President Donald Trump's private business amid furor over his comments on Charlottesville.

    A Secret Service agent stands at President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach in April. [Doug Mills | New York Times]