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Gibsonton couple sentenced to more than five years in prison for tax fraud

Published Jul. 30, 2016

Ynessa Brown is set to give birth to her second child at the beginning of January.

Less than a month later, she's set to report to prison.

U.S. District Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich sentenced Brown, 28, and her husband, Thelonius Robertson, 31, to more than five years in prison Friday for trying to claim more than $2.7 million in fraudulent tax refunds using stolen identities.

They were ordered to repay $673,398 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service.

Some of the identities the couple used came from deceased individuals, including a U.S. Navy veteran.

Robertson and Brown were indicted in 2015, but according to court documents, their fraud scheme began three years earlier, when they hatched a plan to steal names and Social Security numbers to claim refunds on income tax returns.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said the couple loaded the refunds onto debit cards, which were used for retail purchases and ATM withdrawals. Proceeds of the conspiracy totaled $767,398, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelley Howard-Allen told the judge authorities seized about $94,000 during a 2013 search.

Robertson told Kovachevich he needed the money to prop himself up financially and "make sure I had stability throughout the future."

"I made a bad mistake," Robertson said, "and tried to justify it with good purpose."

An emotional Brown told Kovachevich she "wasn't thinking."

The repercussions have since taken a toll on their family, but Robertson's uncle Clifford Tyson said his nephew and Brown have matured.

"They have changed their whole demeanor," Tyson said.

Brown's attorney, Scott Robbins, said his client, who has diabetes, will likely give birth by caesarean section because of her high-risk pregnancy. Robertson must start his prison sentence before the Gibsonton couple's child is born.

In rejecting defense attorneys' pleas for leniency, Kovachevich said there's "no excuse" for what Robertson and Brown did, profiting from stealing the identities of strangers.

"You have picked them out and didn't even know who they were," she said while sentencing Robertson. "This is a very insensitive crime that's personal and you didn't even know who they were. You didn't care."

Contact Samuel Howard at showard@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3373. Follow @SamuelHHoward.