We’ve all played games, whether it’s kickball in the school yard, craps at the casino or the newest alien warfare video game.  And, we’ve all learned the lesson that not every game is fair, even if there are rules that need to be followed.  A Montgomery Advertiser article revealed how one Alabama woman learned the name of the game when it comes to playing games with the federal government.

For some people, the temptation to act in order to get what they want is too much.  In the case of an Alabama state worker, the temptation to access state files to steal peoples’ personal identification information proved to be a losing battle.  The woman pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft, all part of a tax refund fraud scheme targeting the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). An investigation found that the scheme began in October 2009, and ran until April 2012.  The woman faces between two and 22 years in prison, three years of supervised release, restitution and a maximum fine of $750,000.  So, how exactly did a nearly three-year scam rack up such a penalty in jail time? (She didn’t play by the rules; you can’t take other peoples’ tax refunds for yourself.)

The three-year scam started when the fraudster used her access to state databases to obtain personal identity information from other individuals.  She then used her state email address to email the identity information to co-conspirators.  The co-conspirators then used what officials call an “elaborate network” to submit false tax returns forms using the personal identity information.  The tax refunds were laundered back to the source via debit cards, and returned to the co-conspirators.  Court records indicate that the fraudster’s main partner in the scheme filed over 1,000 false tax returns claiming more than $1.7 million in returns. (This is a game with high stakes.) The partner was sentenced to 12 years in prison and to pay $1,291,658 in restitution. (REALLY high stakes.) The crackdown is a product of the partnership between the IRS and Justice Department’s Tax Division, as well as local authorities.

There’s only one thing I’d say to this woman after she receives her sentencing:  “That’s the name of the game.” She should have known going into her scheme that playing a game with the federal government could turn out in a big loss for her.

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