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June 24, 2020

Man Sentenced for His Role in Treasury Check Thefts [1]

On January 17, 2020, in the Southern District of New York, Lenin Guzman-Hidalgo was sentenced for his role in the theft of U.S. Treasury checks. Guzman-Hidalgo was initially indicted in June 2018.

According to the indictment, from about May 2012 to September 2017, Guzman-Hidalgo and his co-conspirators knowingly and willfully conspired to steal Government funds, namely from the Internal Revenue Service, and converted them for their own use. The defendants wrongfully obtained U.S. Treasury checks in the names of victims and sold, deposited, or cashed the checks without the victims’ authorization.

Also according to the indictment, Guzman-Hidalgo and the other defendants, knowingly used and aided and abetted in the use of names, signatures, addresses, dates of birth, Social Security Numbers, and driver’s license numbers of other individuals, without lawful authority, in connection with the offenses. The defendants cashed and deposited stolen checks into bank accounts that were often opened using stolen identities.

Guzman-Hidalgo was sentenced to 22 months’ imprisonment followed by three years of supervised release. He was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $935,943.03 and a special assessment fee of $100.00.

  • [1] The facts in this case narrative come from the following publicly available documents: S.D.N.Y. Crim. Judg., filed Feb. 20, 2020, S.D.N.Y. Indict., filed Jun. 18, 2018, S.D.N.Y. Crim. Compl., filed May 16, 2018, and USA v. Guzman-Hidalgo, et. al., History, printed Apr. 22, 2020.


  • Florida Woman Pled Guilty to Conspiracy to Launder Money [1]

    On April 24, 2020, in the Southern District of Florida, Jacquelyn Shafran pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to launder money. Shafran was initially charged in February 2020.

    According to the court documents, from about April 2017 through about November 2017, Shafran, a resident of Broward County, Florida, conspired with others to launder money derived from a wire fraud scam. The wire fraud scam involved various individuals who called victims and pretended to be employees of various Government agencies. They falsely told victims that they owed back taxes with compounded interest and fees, or that their Social Security Number was used to perpetrate illegal activity and they needed to pay money to clear their name. The callers told the victims that if they did not make immediate payments they would be arrested.

    As part of the conspiracy, Shafran provided her bank account information to receive funds from victims of the schemes, in exchange for a percentage of the deposited money. In addition, Shafran recruited others in the South Florida area to open multiple bank accounts, in order to receive money that she knew was derived from criminal activity. In exchange for recruiting others to open bank accounts, Shafran also received a percentage of the tainted money deposited into their accounts.

    Shafran and her coconspirators made sure to withdraw the stolen funds within hours of deposit by the victims. Shafran lied to law enforcement and told others to lie about the nature of the deposits, if questioned by bank employees. Despite one of her bank accounts being closed for fraud, and the bank accounts of those she recruited being closed for fraud as well, Shafran continued to recruit others and received money for their participation in the scheme.

    Shafran faces a statutory maximum term of imprisonment of up to 20 years, followed by a term of supervised release of up to three years, and a court imposed fine of up to $500,000.00, or double the gross proceeds from the scheme.

    • [1] The facts in this case narrative come from the following publicly available documents: S.D. Fla. Super. Infor., filed Feb. 20, 2020; S.D. Fla. Plea Agr., filed Apr. 24, 2020; and S.D. Fla. Factual Agr., filed Apr. 24, 2020.


    • Man Arrested for Theft of U.S. Mail Containing Economic Impact Payments [1]

      On April 29, 2020, in the Eastern District of New York, Feng Chen was charged with theft of mail, including multiple economic impact payments from the United States Treasury Department, otherwise known as “stimulus payments.” The arrest was announced by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, the United States Postal Inspection Service, and the New York Police Department (NYPD).

      According to the court documents, on April 28, 2020, NYPD police officers observed a man, later identified as Chen, looking inside a medical collection bin at a closed medical office, and then walking to a nearby residential building and examining mail left at the door. Chen continued to walk to another residential building, carrying what appeared to be mail. He discarded the mail he was holding when he saw the police officers. When questioned, Chen made contradictory statements and was discovered to have an outstanding arrest warrant for a criminal case involving identity theft. While conducting a search of Chen incident to arrest, the officers recovered United States Treasury checks totaling more than $12,000, credit cards, and opened envelopes and letters bearing the names of various individuals and addresses.

      If convicted, Chen faces a maximum of five years imprisonment.

      • [1] The facts in this case narrative come from the following publicly available documents: E.D.N.Y. Press Rel., issued Apr. 29, 2020 and E.D.N.Y., Crim. Comp., filed Apr. 29, 2020.


      • Man Indicted for Retaliating Against IRS Employee by Filing False Lien [1]

        On May 12, 2020, in the Southern District of West Virginia, Jeffrey M. Reed was indicted for filing a false lien and encumbrance against the real and personal property of an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) revenue officer due to the performance of official duties by the IRS revenue officer.

        According to the court documents, an IRS revenue officer was assigned to collect a tax liability owed to the IRS in excess of $279,000. During the course of the collection activities, the IRS revenue officer sought to garnish Reed’s wages to satisfy a portion of his tax liability. Reed’s employment ended and his former employer mailed a check to the IRS for $598.22, which represented the wage garnishment against him. In May 2015, in Mercer County, West Virginia, Reed filed a false lien against the IRS revenue officer’s real and personal property, for more than $4.9 million dollars, due to the IRS revenue officer performing official duties, collecting Reed’s outstanding tax liability.

        If convicted, Reed could face a fine and/or up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

        • [1] The facts in this case narrative come from the following publicly available documents: S.D.W.V. Indict., filed May 12, 2020 and 18 U.S.C. § 1521.


        • May 19, 2020

          Five Individuals Indicted for Their Roles in Defrauding Elderly Victims of More Than $4 Million [1]

          On March 11, 2020, in the District of Connecticut, Farouq Fasasi, Rodney Thomas Jr., Montrell Dobbs Jr., Stanley Pierre, and Ralph Pierre were charged in an 11-count indictment for their alleged participation in a lottery and romance scam. The indictment includes charges of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and money laundering.

          According to the indictment, on or around August 2015 and continuing through March 11, 2020, Fasasi, Thomas Jr., and coconspirators, as part of a scheme to defraud others, used various scams, including lottery and romance scams, to fraudulently induce primarily elderly victims to provide money, gifts, or personal details. In a lottery scam, scammers notify victims by telephone, through online communications, or by mail that they have won the lottery. The victims are then told that, in order to collect the prize, they must pay fees, including taxes. One of the victims, a resident of Colorado, was made to believe that he or she had to pay money for fees and a tax to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in order to receive the winnings.

          In a romance scam, scammers take advantage of people looking for companionship by pretending to be prospective companions. Scammers create fake online profiles on dating websites that include false personal details. Once they gain the victim’s trust, the scammers ask the victims for money, falsely claiming to need money for medical or business emergencies, for travel to see the victim, or for other purposes. It is alleged that members of the conspiracy defrauded victims of more than $4 million.

          Fasasi and Thomas Jr., are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and one count of mail fraud, and each charge carries a maximum prison term of 20 years. All five defendants could also face a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment on the charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Fasasi, Dobbs, Stanley Pierre, and Ralph Pierre are charged with one or more counts of money laundering, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment on each count.

          • [1] The facts in this case narrative come from the following publicly available documents: D.Conn. Indict. filed March 11, 2020; and D.Conn. DOJ Press Release dated March 13, 2020.


          • Individual Sentenced in Scheme Involving Stolen Tax Documents and U.S. Treasury Check [1]

            On March 18, 2020, in the Western District of Michigan, Zachary Thomas was sentenced in a scheme involving bank fraud and identity theft. In November 2019, Thomas pled guilty to bank fraud, aggravated identity theft, and passing a U.S. Treasury check with a false or forged endorsement.

            According to the indictment, between July 2018 and October 2018, Thomas and his coconspirators stole mail from mailboxes, including replacement checks from financial institutions, bank account checks, driver’s licenses, social security account number cards, tax documents, and other documents containing personal identifying information. As part of the scheme, Thomas would alter the name of the payee on stolen checks and forge the names of accountholders on the checks, or otherwise falsely endorse them. In August 2018, Thomas, with an intent to defraud, passed a U.S. Treasury tax refund check with a face value of $141,073.89, made payable to a third party and bearing a forged endorsement and signature.

            In furtherance of the scheme, Thomas opened accounts at various financial institutions using the names of the individuals whose personal identifying information was stolen as part of the scheme. Thomas would deposit the stolen checks into various accounts, using automated teller machines (ATMs) and his phone through the financial institutions’ mobile deposit application. Thomas would withdraw funds at various ATMs and purchase goods using debit or credit cards associated with the accounts before the financial institutions discovered the checks were fraudulent.

            Thomas was sentenced to 78 months’ imprisonment followed by four years’ supervised release. He was also ordered to pay $29,415.32 in restitution and a special assessment fee of $300.

            • [1] The facts in this case narrative come from the following publicly available documents: W.D. Mich. Indict. filed Oct. 8, 2019; W.D. Mich. Plea Agr. filed Nov. 27, 2019; and W.D. Mich. Judgment filed Mar. 19, 2020.


            • Individual Charged With Bribery of IRS Revenue Agent [1]

              On February 28, 2020, in the Northern District of Georgia, Dauda Saibu was charged with bribery of an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) revenue agent.

              According to the court documents, from October 11, 2019 to October 23, 2019, Saibu corruptly gave, offered, and promised to pay the revenue agent, with the intent to influence an official act, by offering to pay and then paying the revenue agent to falsify the results of his 2014 Federal income tax return audit.

              On October 11, 2019, Saibu met with the revenue agent to discuss his 2014 tax return. At the end of that meeting, Saibu attempted to give the revenue agent a cash bribe. The revenue agent properly reported the bribe offer and agreed to work with Federal law enforcement authorities.

              On October 22, 2019, Saibu had two meetings with the revenue agent to discuss the results of the IRS's audit. During these meetings, Saibu proposed that if the revenue agent reduced his tax liability to 20% of the actual amount owed, Saibu would pay the revenue agent a $10,000 cash bribe. To memorialize the offer, Saibu wrote: (a) "$10,000" on a piece of paper and gave it to the revenue agent; and (b) "20% of the total amount I owed $187,000" on another piece of paper. After a brief negotiation, Saibu offered to pay the revenue agent an additional $5,000, for a total of $15,000.

              On October 23, 2019, Saibu met with the revenue agent and paid the revenue agent $10,000 in cash in exchange for reducing the amount he owed in back taxes from approximately $187,000 to $47,485.33. Saibu also confirmed that he would pay the revenue agent an additional $5,000 at a later date.

              If convicted, Saibu could face a maximum statutory sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment.

              • [1] The facts in this case narrative come from the following publicly available documents: N.D. Ga. Information filed Feb. 28, 2020.


              • IRS Employee Sentenced for Wire Fraud and Theft of Public Money [1]

                On March 20, 2020, in the Middle District of Tennessee, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) employee Tracey Allison was sentenced for wire fraud and theft of Government property in connection with a scheme to fraudulently obtain paid military leave and other benefits from the IRS. Allison was indicted for these and other offenses on March 6, 2019.

                According to the indictment, Allison has been employed with the IRS in Franklin, Tennessee, since October 2007. From about November 2013 through about October 2018, Allison knowingly devised a scheme to defraud and to obtain money by means of false pretenses, willingly stole property belonging to the United States, and unlawfully used one or more means of identification of another without authority.

                Specifically, between 2013 and 2018, Allison regularly submitted fraudulent and forged Department of the Army Forms 1380 (DA 1380) to the IRS payroll unit seeking payment for military duties. Allison, however, was discharged from the U.S. Army Reserve in August 2012, and did not enlist in the Tennessee National Guard until July 2018. Consequently, she had no military duties for the dates listed on the forms. In furtherance of Allison’s scheme, she forged the name, title, and Department of Defense identification number of her former station commander on the Forms DA 1380. Yet, her former station commander was a military retiree who ceased supervising Allison around July 2013. Allison was not authorized to use the former station commander’s personal identifiers.

                In all, Allison submitted approximately 70 false, fraudulent, and forged Forms DA 1380 to the IRS. As a result of the false submissions, Allison collected payments and benefits totaling approximately $22,846.24.

                Allison was sentenced to time served, or one day of imprisonment, followed by two years’ supervised release. She was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $22,846.24 and a special assessment fee of $200.

                • [1] The facts in this case narrative come from the following publicly available documents: M.D. Tenn. Indict., filed Mar. 6, 2019 and M.D. Tenn. Judg., filed Apr. 2, 2020.


                • April 23, 2020

                  Individual Sentenced in Scheme Involving U.S. Treasury Checks [1]

                  On February 26, 2020, in the Southern District of New York, Oris Sanchez Olivo was sentenced to two counts of bank fraud for her role in a scheme involving U.S. Treasury checks. In June 2019, Sanchez Olivo was indicted for conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud, and aggravated identity theft.

                  According to the court documents, from at least September 2017 up to and including about December 2018, Sanchez Olivo and Danibel Luis knowingly and willfully executed a scheme to defraud financial institutions by making deposits that were then insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and by depositing fraudulently endorsed checks into bank accounts from which they then withdrew funds to which they were not entitled. They deposited U.S. Treasury checks into the accounts. According to the court documents, it is estimated that Sanchez Olivo and Luis opened or accessed approximately 23 bank accounts as part of the scheme and endorsed and deposited checks totaling approximately $418,175, which belonged to others.

                  Sanchez Olivo was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment followed by three years’ supervised release, three months of which will be served under home confinement. Sanchez Olivo was further ordered to pay $60,039.44 in restitution and a special assessment of $100.

                  • [1] The facts in this case narrative come from the following publicly available documents: S.D.N.Y. Complaint filed April 17, 2019; S.D.N.Y. Indict. filed June 28, 2019;; and S.D.N.Y. Judgment filed March 4, 2020.


                  • Man Pleads Guilty to Wire Fraud in Connection With IRS Telephone Scam [1]

                    On March 4, 2020, in the Northern District of Georgia, Joish Patel pled guilty to wire fraud in connection with a scheme to defraud U.S. citizens.

                    According to the court documents, Patel used a call center in connection with a scheme to defraud U.S. residents by misleading them into sending money in connection with several different scams. In one of the scams, Patel and his coconspirators impersonated Internal Revenue Service (IRS) officers to defraud U.S. residents by misleading them into believing that they owed money to the IRS and would be arrested if they did not pay immediately. At least 160 victims received calls during which they were defrauded. The victims sent money via money transmitters such as Western Union®, MoneyGram®, and Ria Financial®. As part of the scheme, Patel retrieved more than $150,000.00 in cash payments of scammed funds from money transmitters using various aliases.

                    Patel may face a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment for wire fraud. He also faces a fine of up to $250,000 or twice the gain or loss, whichever is greater. The defendant agreed to make full restitution of $158,911.99 for distribution to the victims. Sentencing in this matter is scheduled for June 4, 2020.

                    • [1] The facts in this case narrative come from publicly available documents, filed in the N.D.Ga., as follows: Indictment, filed Mar. 5, 2019; and Plea Agreement, filed Mar. 4, 2020.


                    • IRS Employee Sentenced for Theft of U.S. Property [1]

                      On February 13, 2020, in the District of New Jersey, Vire McCants pled guilty, and sentencing was held on the charge of theft of U.S. property for embezzling and knowingly converting to her own use money of an agency of the United States, specifically, paid leave payments received from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), to which she was not entitled. McCants was charged for the offense in November 2019.

                      According to the court documents, McCants was employed as an IRS revenue officer. Between on or about March 6, 2019 and on or about June 8, 2019, on every Wednesday she did not appear for work as scheduled. McCants told her IRS supervisors that she had been selected for grand jury duty. In support of that claim, McCants submitted weekly forms, purportedly signed by the grand jury coordinator. These forms purported to certify that McCants had appeared for grand jury service on each Wednesday during the relevant period. Although McCants was called for grand jury duty, she was not selected as a grand juror and did not appear again for grand jury. McCants was paid by the IRS for each of the days that she submitted time entries for administrative leave, based on her fraudulent claims of grand jury duty obligations. As a result, McCants fraudulently received compensation from the IRS to which she was not entitled for each of those days.

                      McCants was sentenced to one year of probation. She was further ordered to pay $4,132.33 in restitution to the IRS and a special assessment fee of $25.

                      • [1] The facts in this case narrative come from the following publicly available documents: D.N.J. Crim. Complaint filed Nov. 13, 2019; D.N.J. Minutes of Proceedings filed Feb. 13, 2020; and D.N.J. Judgment filed Feb. 14, 2020.


                      • Man Sentenced for Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud [1]

                        On January 22, 2020, in the Northern District of Georgia, Rodrigo Leon-Castillo was sentenced for conspiracy to commit wire fraud. According to court documents, Leon-Castillo engaged in a scheme involving extorting money from victims in the United States by often times purporting to be agents of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) who threatened to arrest victims who did not pay alleged tax debts. Leon-Castillo and his coconspirators were indicted for the offense in September 2018, which Leon-Castillo pled guilty to the offense in September 2019.

                        From about August 2013 through May 2018, Leon-Castillo and the codefendants operated call centers primarily in and around Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, and used multiple IRS impersonation call scripts and payday loan scripts outlining what to say to each victim that they contacted. The coconspirators instructed victims to go to banks or automated teller machines to withdraw money, use the money to purchase prepaid sored value cards from retail stores, and then provide the unique serial number of the prepaid stored value cards to purported government officials.

                        Leon-Castillo and the coconspirators directed victims to wire scammed funds to money services, such as MoneyGram® or Western Union® , to the attention of fictitious names and U.S. based defendants and their coconspirators. They then retrieved the money, sometimes using false identification in the fictitious names, and they subsequently deposited the victim-scammed funds into United States bank accounts of individuals and businesses.

                        Leon-Castillo was sentenced to 51 months’ imprisonment and three years of supervised release. He was ordered to pay $833,938.20 in restitution and a $200 special assessment.

                        • [1] The facts in this case narrative come from the following publicly available documents: N.D. Ga. Indict. filed Sept. 4, 2018; N.D. Ga. Plea Agreement filed Sept. 17, 2019; and N.D. Ga. Judgment filed Jan. 23, 2020.


                        • Business Owner Sentenced for Aiding and Assisting in the Preparation of Materially False Income Tax Returns and Obstructing the Due Administration of the IRS [1]

                          On February 14, 2020, in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Myles Hannigan was sentenced for obstructing the due administration of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and aiding and assisting in the preparation of materially false income tax returns. Hannigan was charged for the offenses in July 2019.

                          According to the court documents, Hannigan owned and operated Payroll Professionals, Incorporated (PPI), located in Media, Pennsylvania. PPI is a third-party payroll processor that assists its clients by handling certain payroll services, including issuing payroll checks for its taxpayers/clients and forwarding tax payments to the Federal, State, and local authorities.

                          On over 100 of the Forms 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return, that Hannigan prepared and filed for taxpayers/clients for the Tax Years 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015, he followed a practice of falsely overstating deposits that he made to pay taxes owed by his taxpayer/clients to the IRS. Specifically, on Form 941, Line 11, Hannigan reported depositing more money to pay tax debt than he actually sent to the IRS, causing victims collectively to underpay the IRS approximately $3,270,566.89 for those tax years. Additionally, Hannigan concealed from his taxpayers/clients that taxes had not been paid by preparing and presenting bogus documents to some PPI clients that falsely reported that taxes were paid to the IRS. Hannigan impeded the efforts of the IRS to contact his taxpayers/clients about tax delinquencies by re-routing IRS notices from his clients’ business addresses to PPI’s business address.

                          Hannigan was sentenced to 52 months’ imprisonment followed by one year of supervised release. He was further ordered to pay $3,270,566.89 in restitution and a special assessment of $1,800.

                          • [1] The facts in this case narrative come from the following publicly available documents: E.D. Pa. Information filed July 2, 2019; and E.D. Pa. Judgment filed Feb. 18, 2020.


                          • April 2, 2020

                            Man Arrested for his Role in Nationwide IRS Impersonation Scheme [1]

                            On January 27, 2020, Ronnell Taylor, Jr. was arrested. Taylor had previously been indicted in the Western District of Pennsylvania for wire fraud conspiracy on January 16, 2020.

                            According to the indictment, the conspiracy involved impersonators calling victims across the United States and impersonating employees from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The IRS impersonators left voicemails instructing victims to contact the IRS at specific phone numbers. When unsuspecting victims called the numbers provided, their calls were automatically forwarded to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone numbers and routed to the IRS impersonators, who then extorted money from the victims to pay alleged tax debts.

                            Beginning in March 2016 and continuing through August 2017, Taylor and his codefendants, Michael Galanis and Barry Nealer, activated Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards and programmed prepaid cell phones to automatically forward calls to VoIP phone numbers. Taylor supplied the codefendants with prepaid SIM cards to activate and instructed his codefendants on how to activate them and program the cell phone numbers associated with the SIM cards to forward calls to VoIP phone numbers.

                            Victims were called by an IRS impersonator, who directed victims to wire money, purchase stored value cards, purchase iTunes gift cards, purchase Target retail store gift cards, or purchase gift cards to pay alleged tax debts. The IRS impersonators defrauded victims in amounts totaling approximately $89,000.

                            On January 27, 2020, Taylor made his initial appearance and was released on a $20,000 unsecured bond. Additional legal actions are pending.

                            • [1] The facts in this case narrative come from the following publicly available documents: W.D. Pa. Indict. filed Jan. 16, 2020; and W.D. Pa. Record of Magistrate’s Proceedings, filed Jan. 28, 2020.


                            • IRS Employee Sentenced for the Unauthorized Disclosure of Suspicious Activity Reports [1]

                              On January 15, 2020, in the Northern District of California, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) employee John C. Fry was sentenced for the unauthorized disclosure of Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs). Fry previously pled guilty to the offense in August 2019.

                              According to the court documents, Fry is an investigative analyst for IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) in San Francisco, California, and has worked for the IRS since 2008. In this position, he had access to various law enforcement databases, including the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) and Palantir, which is an analytic software used by IRS-CI. FinCEN manages the collection and maintenance of SARs, which financial institutions are required to generate under the Bank Secrecy Act to report potentially suspicious financial transactions. The disclosure of a SAR or its contents is unlawful, and employees or agents of Government authorities are prohibited from disclosing a SAR, or any information that would even reveal the existence of a SAR, except as necessary to fulfill official duties.

                              Fry admitted that on May 4, 2018, he logged on to the Palantir database from his work computer and downloaded five SARs related to Michael Cohen and his company, Essential Consultants. Fry then called Michael Avenatti, an attorney based in Newport Beach, California, twice from his personal cell phone. During those conversations, Fry verbally provided information contained in the five SARs to Avenatti. Fry also used one of his personal e-mail accounts to e-mail screenshots of the SARs to Avenatti. Fry admitted that on May 7, 2018, he logged on to the FinCEN database from his work computer and conducted additional searches related to Cohen and Essential Consultants. He then called Avenatti from his personal cell phone and verbally provided information contained in the searches. Fry admitted that he had no official reason in his capacity as an IRS investigative analyst to disclose SAR records related to Cohen or the various companies listed in the SARs.

                              On May 8, 2018, Avenatti circulated a dossier on his public Twitter account releasing the confidential banking information related to Cohen and Essential Consultants. On May 8, 2018, The Washington Post published an article that discussed in detail claims about Cohen’s banking history made public in Avenatti’s dossier. On May 12, 2018, Fry placed an outgoing call to a number later identified as being associated with a reporter. On May 16, 2018, The New Yorker published an article written by this reporter titled, “Missing Files Motivated the Leak of Michael Cohen’s Financial Records.” The article reported that the source, identified only as a law enforcement officer, grew alarmed after being unable to find two important SARs regarding Cohen’s financial activity. In fact, access to the two SARs in question had been restricted and they were not available to all FinCEN users.

                              Fry was sentenced to five years’ probation, including six months of electronic monitoring, for the unauthorized disclosure of SARs. Fry was also ordered to pay a fine in the amount of $5,000.00.

                            • [1] The facts in this case narrative come from the following publicly available documents: N.D. Cal. Crim. Compl. filed Feb. 4, 2019; N.D. Cal. Indict. filed Feb. 28, 2019; N.D. Cal. Plea Agr. filed Aug. 14, 2019; N.D. Cal. Crim. Minutes filed Jan. 15, 2020; and N.D. Cal. Judgement filed Jan. 16, 2020.


                            • Man Sentenced in Scheme Involving Stolen Tax Refund Checks [1]

                              On January 22, 2020, in the Western District of Missouri, Dante Chestnut was sentenced in a scheme involving stolen U.S. Treasury tax refund checks. In July 2019, Chestnut pled guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud, and aggravated identity theft.

                              According to the court documents, Chestnut and seven other individuals, Branden Belvin, Mistie Smith, Frances Wright, Susannah Lesaisaea, Cassandra Franklin, Sharieff Sylvester, and Joseph Hooks, were indicted on May 2, 2018, in a scheme involving the theft of U.S. Treasury tax refund checks. Dante Chestnut was charged with conspiracy, bank fraud, aggravated identity theft, possession of stolen mail, and money laundering.

                              According to the plea agreement, Chestnut’s coconspirators Belvin and Smith unlawfully obtained U.S. Treasury tax refund checks that belonged to other persons and that had been stolen from the U.S. mail. Belvin, Smith, and their coconspirators, including Chestnut, also obtained fraudulent drivers licenses and identification cards to use with the stolen U.S. Treasury checks. Using fraudulent identification documents, the coconspirators presented the stolen U.S. Treasury checks to open bank accounts and withdraw funds at various branches of Academy Bank, a financial institution, in the states of Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri.

                              Chestnut used a fraudulent identification to negotiate a stolen U.S. Treasury check to deposit into a newly created bank account. Chestnut’s actions were captured on an Academy Bank video surveillance camera, and his fingerprints were identified on a check that was recovered from Academy Bank.

                              Chestnut cashed twenty-three U.S. Treasury tax refund checks, totaling $115,760, in this manner. Twenty-one of these transactions were captured on bank security video, including a transaction on May 6, 2016, at an Academy Bank located in Kansas City, Missouri. In addition, Chestnut’s fingerprints were discovered on checks passed by coconspirators Lesaisaea, Franklin, and Hooks.

                              According to the indictment, the scheme resulted in the fraudulent negotiation of approximately 99 checks, representing a total financial loss of approximately $447,517.

                              Chestnut was sentenced to 62 months’ imprisonment, followed by three years’ supervised release. Chestnut was also ordered to pay $441,056.27 in restitution and a special assessment fee of $300.

                              • [1] The facts in this case narrative come from the following publicly available documents: W.D. Mo. Indict. filed May 2, 2018; W.D. Mo. Plea Agr. filed July 25, 2019; W.D. Mo. Judgment filed Jan. 22, 2020.


                              • Man Sentenced for Accessing IRS System and Obtaining Taxpayer Information [1]

                                On January 13, 2020, in the Northern District of West Virginia, Clinton Jean-Pierre of Miami, Florida, was sentenced for aggravated identity theft and accessing a computer and obtaining information from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) eAuthentication online taxpayer system. Jean-Pierre was charged with the offenses in July 2019 and pled guilty in August 2019.

                                According to a U.S. Department of Justice press release, Jean-Pierre admitted to fraudulently accessing the IRS eAuthentication online taxpayer system in December 2017. Jean-Pierre admitted that in order to pass IRS security protocols, he had fraudulently “ported” an unknowing person’s cellular telephone number to his own phone in order to obtain the security code necessary to create an unauthorized taxpayer account. Once in the IRS eAuthentication system, Jean-Pierre admitted that he gained access to a taxpayer’s tax return information, which included the taxpayer’s personal identifying information.

                                Jean-Pierre was sentenced to a mandatory 24 months’ imprisonment for aggravated identity theft and 46 months’ imprisonment for computer fraud, to be served consecutively, for a total of 70 months’ imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release. In addition, Jean-Pierre was ordered to pay a special assessment fee of $200.

                                • [1] The facts in this case narrative come from the following publicly available documents: N.D.W.V. Information filed Jul. 30, 2019; N.D.W.V. Plea Agr. filed Aug. 29, 2019; N.D.W.V. DOJ Press Release dated Jan. 13, 2020; and N.D.W.V. Judgment filed Jan. 21, 2020.


                                • February 25, 2020

                                  Indian National Pleads Guilty to Charges in Connection with Operating India-Based Call Centers That Scammed U.S. Victims Out of Millions of Dollars [1]

                                  On January 9, 2020, in the Southern District of Texas, Hitesh Madhubhai Patel, also known as Hitesh Hinglaj, pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy and conspiracy in connection with his operation of a multimillion-dollar India-based call center scam which targeted U.S. victims.

                                  According to court documents, Patel was identified as an operator of the India-based call center HGlobal. From about 2013 until about October 2016, Patel and his coconspirators participated in a complex scheme to defraud U.S. victims by misleading them into sending money in connection with several different scams. In one of the scams, the coconspirators impersonated Internal Revenue Service (IRS) officers to defraud U.S. residents by misleading them into believing that they owed money to the IRS, and that they would be arrested and fined if they did not pay the alleged back taxes immediately.

                                  As part of the scheme, Patel corresponded by e-mail with his coconspirators to send credit card numbers, telephone scam scripts, deposit slips, payment information, call center operations information, and bank account information. The scripts included IRS impersonation, payday loan fraud, U.S. Government grant fraud, and debt collection fraud. Patel admitted that a reasonably foreseeable loss of more than $25 million but less than $65 million was attributable to him.

                                  Patel was prosecuted in the United States after being extradited from Singapore in April 2019. Singapore authorities had apprehended Patel at the request of the U.S.

                                  Patel may face a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment for the wire fraud conspiracy and five years for conspiracy. Both counts also carry the possibility of a fine of up to $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. Sentencing in this matter is scheduled for April 3, 2020.

                                  • [1] The facts in this case narrative come from the following publicly available documents: S.D. Tex. Superseding Indict. filed Oct. 19, 2016; S.D. Tex. Plea Agr. filed Jan. 9; and DOJ Press Release dated January 9, 2020.


                                  • Man Pleads Guilty in Connection with an International Impersonation Scheme Targeting U.S. Victims [1]

                                    On December 12, 2019, in the Eastern District of New York, Armughanul Asar pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, in connection with an impersonation and Internet retail scheme directed at thousands of individuals across the United States.

                                    According to court documents, telemarketing call centers in India placed calls to U.S. victims seeking to defraud them of money by various fraudulent scenarios. Among the fraudulent scenarios was a scam wherein callers contacted the victims and falsely claimed to be agents of U.S. Government agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The callers falsely claimed they were contacting the victims to inform them that they owed the U.S. Government a specified amount of money, and if the victims did not immediately remit payment to the individuals or entities identified by the callers, they would be arrested.

                                    Between January 2018 and September 2018, Asar and others opened bank accounts in the names of various inactive and shell corporations for the purpose of receiving fraud proceeds. Shortly after receiving the wire transfer payments that the victims sent, the defendants and others withdrew and directed shell company owners to withdraw the fraudulently obtained victims’ funds and then distributed the money via cashier’s checks and wire transfers to other bank accounts. The defendant, together with others, received approximately $2.3 million from the victims as a result of the fraud scheme.

                                    If convicted, Asar could face criminal forfeiture and a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment. Sentencing in this matter is scheduled for July 7, 2020.

                                    • [1] The facts in this case narrative come from the following publicly available documents: E.D.N.Y. Indict. filed Aug. 22, 2019; E.D.N.Y. DOJ Press Release dated Aug. 26, 2019; and E.D.N.Y. Change of Plea Hearing filed Dec. 12, 2019.


                                    • Man Pleads Guilty to Charges Related to Attempting to Obtain President’s Tax Returns [1]

                                      On December 16, 2019, in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Justin Hiemstra was sentenced after pleading guilty to two counts arising from his using someone else’s username to access a school computer and attempting to obtain the tax returns of President Donald Trump without permission from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Hiemstra and codefendant Andrew Harris were charged with the offenses on July 17, 2019, and pled guilty on August 6, 2019.

                                      According to court documents, Hiemstra and Harris, two students at Haverford College, went to the school’s computer lab and attempted to obtain President Trump’s tax returns via the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) website. Hiemstra and Harris opened a false FAFSA application in the name of a member of the Trump family and found that someone else had already obtained a Federal Student Aid identification (FSA-ID) for President Trump and identification password. In general, before beginning one’s very first FAFSA application, an individual registers with the Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA Office). Once registered, the individual obtains a unique identifier, known as a FSA-ID, essentially the equivalent of a username. Once the individual has activated the FSA-ID, the individual can complete the first FAFSA application and any subsequent applications through the FAFSA website.

                                      In order to reset the identification password, Hiemstra and Harris were required to answer challenge questions that the other person had originally created when first setting up the FSA-ID and password. They were able to do so and reset the password. Using President Trump’s personal identifiers, including his Social Security Number and date of birth, Hiemstra and Harris unsuccessfully attempted to import President Trump’s Federal tax information into the false FAFSA application that they had initiated in the name of a Trump family member.

                                      When questioned by law enforcement, Hiemstra stated that credentials from two other Haverford College students were used to access the two computers that he and Harris used.

                                      Hiemstra was sentenced to two years on each of two counts, to run concurrently, and probation. He was further ordered to complete 200 hours of community service and to pay a $50.00 special assessment.

                                      • [1] The facts in this case narrative come from the following publicly available documents: E.D. Pa. Information filed July 17, 2019; E.D. Pa. Gov. Plea Memorandum filed Aug. 5, 2019; E.D. Pa. Crim. Dockets as of Aug. 8, 2019; and E.D. Pa. Judgment filed Dec. 18, 2019.


                                      • Florida Tax Preparer Sentenced in Scheme Involving Wire Fraud [1]

                                        On December 5, 2019, in the Southern District of Florida, Fort Lauderdale tax preparer Deborah Thomas was sentenced after previously pleading guilty to three counts of wire fraud in connection with a scheme to misappropriate her clients’ monies, which had been intended to satisfy taxes owed to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Thomas was indicted for the offenses in May 2019 and pled guilty in August 2019.

                                        According to the indictment, from April 2015 through May 2018, Thomas worked as a tax preparer at a public accounting firm. In an effort to unjustly enrich herself, she registered Global Business Concepts, LLC (operating as U.S. Treasures). She subsequently opened a bank account in the name of that business, where she then deposited fraudulently obtained checks.

                                        Thomas instructed some of her clients who owed money to the IRS to write checks payable to “U.S. Treasury.” She then had the checks stamped or altered, making it difficult to see the last letters of the payee. Thomas instructed other clients, whose primary language was not English, to make checks payable to “U.S. Treasures” or “U.S. Treasure.” Thomas did not give those client checks to the IRS but instead deposited them into her U.S. Treasures account through automated teller machines in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Images of the deposited checks were then transmitted via wire communication to servers located in Richardson, Texas, allowing them to be credited to Thomas’ own business bank account. The fraudulent proceeds obtained by Thomas totaled more than $654,779.

                                        Thomas was sentenced to 108 months in Federal prison and four years of supervised release. She was further ordered to pay over $5.1 million in restitution.

                                        • [1] The facts in this case narrative come from the following publicly available documents: S.D. Fla. Indict. filed May 16, 2019; S.D. Fla. Plea Agr. filed Aug. 19, 2019; S.D. Fla. Crim. Docket as of Aug. 21, 2019 and S.D. Fla. Judgment filed Dec. 8, 2019.


                                        • January 27, 2020

                                          Man Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud in Connection With an International Impersonation Scheme Targeting U.S. Victims [1]

                                          On November 26, 2019, in the Eastern District of New York, Jamal Zafar pled guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Zafar and coconspirators had previously been indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering in connection with an impersonation and Internet retail scheme directed at thousands of individuals across the United States.

                                          According to the court documents, as part of the scheme, telemarketing call centers in India placed calls to U.S. victims seeking to defraud them of money by various fraudulent scenarios. Among the fraudulent scenarios was a scam wherein callers contacted the victims and falsely claimed to be agents of U.S. Government agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The callers falsely claimed that they were contacting the victims to inform them that they owed the U.S. Government a specified amount of money and, if the victims did not immediately remit payment to the individuals or entities identified by the callers, they would be arrested.

                                          Between January 2018 and September 2018, Zafar and others opened bank accounts in the names of various inactive and shell corporations for the purpose of receiving fraud proceeds. Shortly after receiving the wire transfer payments that the victims sent, the defendant and others withdrew and directed shell company owners to withdraw the fraudulently obtained victims’ funds and then distributed the money via cashier’s checks and wire transfers to other bank accounts. The defendant, together with others, received approximately $2.3 million from the victims as a result of the fraud scheme.

                                          Zafar consented to the entry of a forfeiture money judgement in the amount of $232,362 and the forfeiture of other property involved in the defendant’s violation.

                                          Zafar could face a maximum statutory sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment.

                                          • [1] The facts in this case narrative come from the following publicly available documents: E.D.N.Y. Indict. filed Aug. 22, 2019; E.D.N.Y. DOJ Press Release dated Aug. 26, 2019; E.D.N.Y Criminal Cause For Guilty Plea filed Nov. 26, 2019; E.D.N.Y Preliminary Order of Forfeiture filed Dec. 9, 2019; and E.D.N.Y Order of Referral filed Nov. 26, 2019.


                                          • IRS Employee Indicted with Access Device Fraud and Aggravated Identity Theft [1]

                                            On November 26, 2019, in the Eastern District of Virginia, Kwashie Senam Zilevu was indicted on charges of access device fraud and aggravated identity theft. Zilevu was previously charged via criminal complaint with access device fraud on October 2, 2019, and subsequently arrested by special agents of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) on October 3, 2019.

                                            According to court documents, Zilevu was employed as an Information Technology Specialist with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Zilevu owned several businesses, including MacroTele, LLC, which he claimed sold telephone calling cards that he created. Between January 2016 and March 2018, Zilevu knowingly, and without authorization, used the names, addresses, dates of birth, and Social Security Numbers of at least three victims to obtain fraudulent credit cards. Once Zilevu obtained the credit cards in the victims’ names, he used them to make several thousands of dollars of purchases at retail stores and other companies. An American Express (AmEx) application was submitted using a victim’s personally identifiable information (PII) and approximately $49,000 was charged to the AmEx card. Among the purchases were an airline ticket for travel from Washington, D.C., to Miami, Florida, and a hotel reservation for Zilevu.

                                            Another credit card application was submitted to U.S. Bank and Trust using PII of a second victim. Bank statements revealed that a total of $10,273.39 in completed transactions and $2,651.62 in attempted transactions were made using this card, including an airline ticket from Dulles, Virginia, to Montego Bay, Jamaica, for Zilevu. Another credit card application was submitted to U.S. Bank and Trust using a third victim’s PII. A total of $9,641.69 in fraudulent charges were made using this card. A review of Zilevu’s IRS e-mail account revealed that Zilevu received an e-mail message from PayPal congratulating the third victim for setting up his or her account and instructing the victim to click a link in order to confirm the accuracy of his or her e-mail address. Zilevu received a subsequent e-mail message from PayPal to his IRS e-mail account advising the third victim that he or she was officially a PayPal member. When interviewed, each of the victims confirmed that the fraudulent credit cards had been taken out in their names, and that Zilevu did not have permission or authority to use their information to apply for the cards.

                                            This investigation was worked jointly by special agents from TIGTA and the United States Postal Inspection Service. If convicted, Zilevu could face a fine and up to 15 years’ imprisonment.

                                            • [1] The facts in this case narrative come from the following publicly available documents: D. Mass. Crim. Compl. filed October 30, 2019; D. Mass. Executed Arrest Warrant filed October 30, 2019; D. Mass. Crim. Docket as of November 12, 2019.


                                            • Woman Sentenced in Scheme Using Stolen Tax Refund Checks [1]

                                              On November 26, 2019, in the Western District of Missouri, Frances Wright was sentenced for her role in a scheme involving the theft of U.S. Treasury tax refund checks. In July 2019, Wright pled guilty to bank fraud.

                                              According to the court documents, eight individuals were charged in a scheme involving the theft of U.S. Treasury tax refund checks. Branden Belvin, Mistie Smith, Dante Chestnut, Susannah Lesaisaea, Cassandra Franklin, Sharieff Sylvester, Joseph Hooks, and Frances Wright were indicted on May 2, 2018, for conspiracy, bank fraud, and aggravated identity theft.

                                              Belvin and Smith, both residents of California, obtained approximately 99 U.S. Treasury checks that had been stolen from the U.S. Postal Service mail stream. The checks had been issued for tax refunds and were printed and mailed in Kansas City, Missouri. Belvin and Smith recruited the codefendants to participate in the scheme by negotiating the stolen checks. They created or obtained fraudulent identification documents, such as driver’s licenses, in order to deposit the stolen refund checks.

                                              Between March 2016 and May 2016, the coconspirators traveled through Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri negotiating the stolen refund checks at various branches of Academy Bank, a financial institution headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri. The defendants used false identification documents in order to open bank accounts in the names depicted on the checks. They then deposited the checks into the newly created accounts and subsequently withdrew the majority of the money.

                                              In April 2016, Denver, Colorado, police officers responded to an incident involving Belvin and Smith at a hotel. Officers recovered an envelope containing 19 counterfeit California driver’s licenses. The names on the counterfeit driver’s licenses matched the names of victims whose tax refund checks had been stolen and cashed, but most of the licenses pictured the same six individuals, coconspirators Chestnut, Sylvester, Franklin, Lesaisaea, Wright, and another individual. The scheme resulted in the fraudulent negotiation of approximately 99 checks representing a total financial loss of approximately $447,517. The aggregate amount of stolen checks presented by Wright totaled $24,970.

                                              Wright was sentenced to five years’ probation for committing bank fraud and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $24,970.

                                              • [1] The facts in this case narrative come from the following publicly available documents: W.D. Mo. Indict. filed May 2, 2018; W.D. Mo. Plea Agr. filed July 29, 2019; W.D. Mo. Judgment filed Nov 26, 2019.


                                              • Four Individuals Charged in Scheme to Defraud U.S. Government Agencies [1]

                                                On November 6, 2019, in the Eastern District of New York, Jack Cabasso, Frances Cabasso, Jonathan Lasker, Alan Schwartz, and Aventura Technologies, Inc. (Aventura), were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud, money laundering conspiracy, and unlawful importation.

                                                According to the criminal complaint, from between about August 2006 and November 2019, the defendants knowingly and intentionally conspired to devise a scheme to defraud U.S. Government agencies, contractors, and private sector customers by falsely stating that merchandise was made by Aventura and in the United States. As stated in a Department of Justice press release dated November 7, 2019, under Federal Government procurement laws and regulations a product’s country of origin can impact a procurement officer’s decision to purchase a product. In addition, all products imported into the United States must be marked with their country of origin. Over the past decade, Aventura made upwards of $88 million, including over $20 million in Federal Government contracts, while claiming that it was manufacturing its products at its headquarters in Commack, New York. Instead, since at least 2006, Aventura has been importing products primarily from the People’s Republic of China and then reselling them as American-made. According to the complaint, the Department of the Treasury has paid Aventura approximately $16.9 million through September 2019.

                                                The defendants also defrauded the U.S. Government by obtaining contracts set aside for women-owned small business under the false pretense that Aventura was controlled by Frances Cabasso when, in fact, Aventura was controlled by Jack Cabasso.

                                                If convicted, the defendants could face up to 20 years’ imprisonment on each charge in the complaint.

                                                This investigation was worked jointly by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the General Services Administration Office of Inspector General, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)- Criminal Investigation, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Energy Office of Inspector General, the Army Criminal Investigation Division, and the Treasury Office of Inspector General.

                                                • [1] The facts in this case narrative come from the following publicly available documents: E.D.N.Y. Crim. Compl. filed Nov 6, 2019; and E.D.N.Y DOJ Press Release dated Nov 7, 2019.



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