Hillsborough deputies: Murder suspect tried to steal victim's identity

TAMPA — Six months ago, Jason Whitfield fatally shot a 23-year-old Tampa man in a dispute over drug-dealing turf, deputies say.

This month, he used the dead man's personal information in an attempt to file a fraudulent tax return, according to the Sheriff's Office.

From jail, Whitfield, 28, sent Michael Massaline's name, date of birth and Social Security number to his girlfriend. In several very detailed phone conversations, Whitfield told her how to use the information to file a tax return that would get them about $9,000, deputies say.

"It shows the extent of the insidious nature of these people — how far they will go," said Master Deputy Steven Gray.

Deputies in Hillsborough's jails see evidence of tax fraud almost daily during filing season, said Gray, a member of the jail's intelligence-gathering team. The tip about Whitfield came from the phone company that the Sheriff's Office uses for jail service and phone call monitoring.

One of the company's employees thought Whitfield's conversations with his girlfriend were suspicious and reported them.

Gray's team searched Whitfield's cell, where it found the stolen personal information. Later, detectives interviewed his girlfriend, who also had the information. Deputies declined to provide her name because she is a witness. She has not been charged, and the investigation continues.

In addition to passing along Massaline's name, Whitfield also sent his girlfriend the personal information of three incarcerated people, deputies say.

He faces four counts of identity theft.

Whitfield probably got the personal identifiers from legal paperwork, which inmates often get in their cases.

"Sometimes, the inmates don't secure it while they're at dinner or during recreation," said Cpl. Bruce Crumpler, who leads the agency's economic crimes unit.

Though deputies consistently find evidence of tax fraud, prosecutors often have trouble filing charges because, to prove identity theft, they must have evidence that the suspect planned to use the information in a fraudulent manner. Simply possessing personal information is not enough, Crumpler said.

With the recorded phone calls between Whitfield and his girlfriend, "the evidence is clear," Crumpler said.

Whitfield faces a charge of second-degree murder with a firearm in the death of Massaline of 14215 Shadow Moss Lane.

In November, deputies responding to a 911 call found Massaline in a yard off 131st Avenue, a few miles from his home.

Whitfield was arrested Nov. 7 in Osceola County.

He's been arrested 16 times in Florida, state records show, and has been convicted of marijuana possession, obstructing an officer without violence and driving without a license.

His trial on the murder charge is scheduled for Oct. 1.

Times news researcher John Martin and staff writer Danny Valentine contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3433.

Hillsborough deputies: Murder suspect tried to steal victim's identity 05/16/12 [Last modified: Thursday, May 17, 2012 12:40am]

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