LAND O'LAKES — A woman who worked at a Regions bank branch is accused of creating nearly 200 phony bank accounts using real people's names and information, filing fraudulent tax returns in the victims' names and then funneling the money to her boyfriend.
All told, authorities say, Howayda Hamdan, 28, had more than $1 million in IRS refunds deposited into the various accounts. Her boyfriend, Hicham Abou El Faouatih, 32, withdrew more than $65,000 before the couple were arrested over the weekend.
Abou El Faouatih is charged with grand theft of more than $50,000. Hamdan is charged with scheme to defraud and criminal use of personal identification. Both live at 30134 Rattana Court in Wesley Chapel.
According to Abou El Faouatih's arrest report, the thefts occurred over three months. Hamdan, while working at a Regions branch on State Road 54, is accused of using 149 different people's names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers to set up 184 bank accounts. She then "orchestrated the deposit" of 207 U.S. Treasury checks into the accounts from fraudulent tax returns she had filed, according to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office report.
The report says the scheme "deprived the United States government of the right to $1,081,419.61."
Abou El Faouatih was on the receiving end, authorities say, citing wire transfers to him totalling $25,636 and two cashier's checks totaling $39,793.45. He was seen on surveillance video cashing the checks at a Regions on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, the report says.
In an interview with an investigator, Abou El Faouatih denied cashing the checks or knowing anything about the matter.
He is a native of Morocco; Hamdan is from Lebanon. Both have Social Security numbers, according to their arrest reports.
Abou El Faouatih was released Saturday after posting $20,000 bail. Hamdan is still in the Pasco jail, with bail set at $2 million.
Pasco sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll would not comment further on the case, citing an ongoing investigation.
The arrest reports say Abou El Faouatih is also being investigated by the Secret Service regarding the fraudulent tax returns.