Department of Justice U.S. Attorney’s Office Middle District of Georgia:
Charles E. Peeler, United States Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, announces that Saferia Johnson, aged 34, formerly of Valdosta, Georgia and Leo McGill, aged 51, of Calera, Alabama have entered guilty pleas to one count of conspiracy to steal government funds, based on a fraudulent tax refund scheme seeing more than $2 million in refunds, and to one count of aggravated identity theft. Ms. Johnson and Mr. McGill entered their pleas on April 4, 2018, before Senior District Court Judge Hugh Lawson in Valdosta. Co-defendant Detrone Middleton, 38, of Douglas, Georgia entered his guilty plea to the charges on March 15, 2018.
The evidence supporting the plea showed that in 2012, the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations (IRS-CI) began an investigation after receiving information that a number of accounts controlled by the three co-defendants and others had received a large number of federal tax refund deposits issued in the name of people other than the owners of the bank accounts. IRS-CI identified individuals whose identities had been used on the returns in question and determined that Ms. Johnson, Mr. McGill and Mr. Middleton were involved in a scheme where fraudulent federal incomes tax returns were filed for tax years 2010 and 2011 and refunds deposited into 45 separate bank accounts.
In entering their pleas, the defendants admitted to filing approximately 984 fraudulent returns using stolen identities for tax years 2010 and 2011. The fraudulent returns, which were filed without the knowledge or permission of the individuals whose identities had been stolen, sought refunds of $2,082,275.00. Refunds totaling $1,498,776.00 were issued by the IRS on those returns in the form of direct deposits to the 45 bank accounts, checks, or debit cards. Ms. Johnson, Mr. McGill, and Mr. Middleton admitted in entering their pleas that those amounts were received by them or their associates.
Investigating agents interviewed a number of the individuals whose stolen identifying information was used to file fraudulent refunds. Those individuals confirmed that they did not file or authorize the filing of the returns. A majority of those whose identities were stolen were minors at the time the returns were filed.
Ms. Johnson, Mr. McGill, and Mr. Middleton each face up to five years in prison for the conspiracy charge and two years for the aggravated identity theft. The three may also be ordered to pay restitution of the $1,498,776.00 to the United States.
United States Attorney Charles E. Peeler stated: “Those who steal the identities of other people to commit fraud against the United States Government steal directly from the taxpayers and cause great harm to those whose identities are taken. Using the identities of other people to line your own pockets also shows a callous disregard for the frustration and difficulty their greed brings to innocent victims who may spend years correcting the mess they have caused. My office is committed to working with the IRS and other law enforcement agencies to ferret out identity thieves who are victimizing the public and bring them to justice, as occurred here.”
“Identity theft continues to be a serious crime that effects taxpayers on a daily basis,” said Thomas J. Holloman, Special Agent in Charge, IRS Criminal Investigation. “With the filing season coming to a close in the next couple weeks, it is important that taxpayers protect their identities and inform the IRS when their identities may have been compromised in filing a tax return.” Go to IRS.GOV and click on 2018 Dirty Dozen for more on tax schemes.
This case was investigated by the Internal Revenue Service–Criminal Investigations. Assistant United States Attorney Robert D. McCullers is prosecuting the case for the United States.
Questions concerning this case should be directed to Pamela Lightsey, Public Information Officer, United States Attorney’s Office, at (478) 621-2603.
Three Plead To Tax Fraud And Identity Theft