TAMPA — The nursing field humbled her, Denetria Barnes wrote last spring, describing an appreciation for life she discovered amid the dying.
"One Day Someone Is Here Den Dey Gone," the medical assistant posted in Facebook jargon. "U Kno I B Getting Attached Ta My Patients." Only detectives knew just how attached.
Barnes, 24, was sentenced to 37 months in prison Tuesday for conspiring with a boyfriend to defraud the government by peddling hundreds of patient identities. Many wound up in the hands of a Tampa detective posing as a tax refund thief.
In an era of multimillion dollar refund fraud, Barnes profited little. She was ordered to repay just $12,000 in proceeds.
But for sentencing purposes, U.S. District Judge James S. Moody Jr. accepted the government's calculation that each Social Security number was worth $500 — for a total of $308,500 — because each fit the legal definition of a device that could be used to commit fraud.
That loss figure killed any chance of probation for Barnes.
Federal prosecutor Thomas Palermo called her a "point of compromise," referring to the rampant breaches of confidential information that fuel stolen identity refund fraud.
Some of Barnes' hijacked names appear to have come from Emerald Garden, the Clearwater assisted living facility that employed her. Others came from a contact at Tampa General Hospital, according to court records.
Barnes, by text message, negotiated the sale of Social Security numbers with a prospective buyer named "Sal," who was Tampa police Detective Sal Augeri, records show.
"I got a good feelin we gonna all make sum good $$$," the detective texted.
"I was just here thinkin the same thing," Barnes responded. "I can get u at least 30 to 40 each time and good ones at that."
She was arrested in May, along with co-conspirator Jakiel Bazart, who told a confidential police source that he had a "trash barrel" full of patient identification information, records state.
Both Barnes and Bazart signed plea agreements. Bazart is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 4. The cases were investigated by Tampa police, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and IRS-Criminal Investigations.
"Stealing identities and filing false tax returns is a serious crime that hurts innocent taxpayers," IRS-CI Special Agent in Charge James D. Robnett said.
Along with the prison sentence, Judge Moody ordered Barnes to serve three years of supervised release. He barred her from accepting any employment where she has access to personal identification information.
While awaiting sentencing, she has been living in her hometown of Tallahassee, helping out at her mother's hair salon and working in a restaurant, her attorney wrote in a court filing. She previously attended a community college and a technical center, training to be a medical assistant.
Defense attorney Jervis Wise said Barnes had already "paid dearly," noting, "She lost her job and will likely never work in the health care field again."
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Patricia Rohani, manager at the 20-bed Emerald Garden, said it was the first time in 20 years of operating the facility that a staff person had been discovered taking patient identities. Barnes worked there for about a year as a nurse's assistant, Rohani said.
"She was a nice girl, very dependable, very kind to everybody," Rohani said. "That's why it came like a big, big shock when I heard about it."
At least one patient's name was used to file a false claim, Rohani said. The patient has since died.
Rohani said Barnes called, crying, to apologize for her actions. Barnes apologized again Tuesday, this time to the judge.
"I know what I did was wrong," she told Moody, minutes before he passed sentence.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.