Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Authorities: Bay area criminals use fake identities to steal federal tax refunds

TAMPA — Dead people can still get federal tax refunds.

That's an identity theft trick that several Tampa Bay area criminals have figured out, according to court documents and arrest reports.

Thursday brought the arrest of Alexis Buchanan Harrison, 26, of Tampa — one in a line of people accused of filing tax returns with the names and Social Security numbers of deceased people, a search warrant shows.

Two days earlier, a Pasco County man, Gary J. Thomas, was accused of committing the same crime two dozen times.

His arrest report shows that he was suspected of being part of an organized fraud ring being investigated by the U.S. Secret Service, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and the Tampa Police Department for three months.

Officials declined to comment on that investigation.

In the Tampa case, Harrison was charged with two counts of fraudulent use of personal information. She taught others the scheme as well, according to the affidavit for a search warrant executed on her home in May.

A woman arrested and charged with fraudulent use of a credit card in March told officers that Harrison had told her "she had a way to make easy money."

Harrison showed the woman how to prepare a tax return on's free preparation site and gave her a list of accounts to receive the refund money and debit cards.

Harrison also showed her a genealogy site that lists the names, dates of birth, dates of death and Social Security numbers for millions of people, the affidavit said.

Social Security numbers were vetted by calling an IRS automated line that tells whether a return has already been filed under that number.

When police searched Harrison's home May 16, they confiscated 10 debit cards, $1,100 in cash, jewelry, computers, four TVs, three gaming systems, four cell phones, gift cards and miscellaneous receipts.

Evidence of illegal drug sales also was found, and Harrison's husband, Damien Harrison, 33, was arrested that day and remains in a Hillsborough County jail. On Thursday, six counts of fraudulent use of personal information were added to his charges, jail records show.

Filing false tax returns can be lucrative.

Larhonda Williams-McCoy of Tampa was ordered to pay the IRS more that $81,000 when she was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Jan. 20, records show.

Williams-McCoy admitted in a plea agreement to filing 36 tax returns with other people's information for a total of $148,000. She pleaded guilty to making false or fraudulent claims and committing fraud with identification documents. She could have been sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. Upon her release, she'll have 36 months of supervision.

On Thursday afternoon, Harrison was freed from a Hillsborough County jail on $4,000 bail.

Authorities: Bay area criminals use fake identities to steal federal tax refunds 09/01/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 2, 2011 9:53am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. East Tampa store owner who survived one shooting is targeted again with fatal results


    TAMPA — In the 2011 video, Mahamoud Ibrahim stands behind the counter of his tiny East Tampa convenience store, his back to the surveillance camera meant to discourage thieves.

    A memorial has sprouted in front of the 29th Street Store in East Tampa, where a robber fatally shot owner Mohamoud Ibrahim on July 16. Security experts say small mom-and-pop stores in high crime areas are easy targets for robberies and typically don't have the budgets for extra security measures. [TONY MARRERO/Times Staff]
  2. Pinellas superintendent, School Board pen letter to legislative delegation for help against 'unjust' funds for charter schools


    Because of a recent change in state law, the Pinellas County school district will have to shell out $25 million over five years  -- more funding per student than any other large district in the state -- for charter school construction and maintenance projects, and district officials …

    Pinellas County School Board Superintendent Michael Grego during a School Board meeting on August 25, 2015 at the School Administration Building, 301 Fourth Street SW in Largo.
  3. AARP still waiting for the two Ricks to send voter education videos


    AARP Florida wants to educate St. Petersburg residents on Mayor Rick Kriseman and former mayor Rick Baker’s views on how to make the Sunshine City more livable.

    It's been a frenetic St. Pete mayor's race so far. Maybe that's the reason AARP hasn't received voter education videos from the campaigns
  4. Photos: Kehlani packs fans into a sold-out Orpheum in Tampa


    R&B singer Kehlani had to postpone a spring show in Tampa due to illness, but it seemed she was no worse for the wear on Thursday, when her make-up show sold out the Orpheum well in advance. Ella Mai and Jahkoy opened the show. Aubrey Wipfli was there snapping photos; click the headline …

    Kehlani performed at the Orpheum in Tampa on July 20, 2017.
  5. Rowdies part of a record-setting season for USL attendance


    ST. PETERSBURG — Although Rowdies fans haven't had many recent opportunities to show out at Al Lang, the United Soccer League turnstiles keep turning at a record rate.

    A Rowdies fan waves flags ahead of the first half of the game between Tampa Bay Rowdies and Orlando City B at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Saturday, March 25, 2017.