TAMPA — A 17-year-old who was charged as an adult last month in a burglary case has become the first person in Hillsborough County charged under a new law designed to combat tax fraud.
When detectives arrested Christian Russell on burglary and grand theft charges Oct. 3, they obtained a search warrant for his cell phone. On that phone, they found a picture of a sheet of paper on which someone had written the bank-routing and account numbers for five different people, according to detectives.
Because he had that picture, Russell now has an additional charge of unlawful possession of personal identification information, the result of a criminal statute that went into effect Oct. 1. An investigation revealed that the accounts were funded through direct deposits of U.S. Treasury checks, authorities said.
Under the new law, it is a felony to possess the personal identification information — including bank account and Social Security numbers, and dates of birth — without authorization.
Hillsborough sheriff's officials on Wednesday touted the case against Russell as an example of the law's efficiency in fighting tax fraud.
Before it went into effect, detectives would have to find proof that such information was, in fact, being used to commit tax fraud before any charges could be brought, Hillsborough sheriff's Cpl. Bruce Crumpler said. Much of the time, that required months of investigation, at the end of which, evidence of fraud was unobtainable.
"In this case, we were able to charge him quickly as opposed to waiting months for evidence to develop," Crumpler said. "I think it's going to make the bad guys' ability to traffic in this stuff harder."
Russell remains jailed on $47,500 bail.