Posted on March 18th, 2013 No comments
Malinsky Bazile, a young Miami police officer, pocketed about $140,000 over the past two years — but not in salary for his patrol duties, authorities say.
While on duty, Bazile ran the names of more than 1,000 people in the state driver’s license database, according to a criminal complaint. Then he took their personal information and filed bogus federal income-tax returns, all to score stolen refunds.
Bazile and fellow officer Vital Frederick, separately accused of tapping into the same database, were both arrested Thursday in the first-ever federal prosecution of identity theft and tax-refund fraud involving South Florida law enforcement.
Bazile, 28, of Miramar, and Frederick, 26, of North Miami, who both joined the force in 2008, were arrested by Miami police internal affairs detectives and FBI agents. The officers had their first appearances in Miami federal court Thursday, with bond hearings and arraignments set for next week.
In an unrelated prosecution, federal agents also arrested a state corrections officer Thursday on the same offenses.
The Miami cop arrests were but the latest in a string of city officer take-downs, part of a joint corruption investigation into the department. The main focus: several officers accused of providing protection for a sports-gambling ring or a check-cashing store, both in Liberty City.
Frederick was also charged with extortion in connection with the check-cashing store racket.
But the allegations of police involvement in the growing wave of ID- and tax-refund fraud prompted strong reaction — and disappointment — from others in law enforcement.
“The perpetrators of this type of [tax] fraud have been as diverse as the victims they prey upon,” said Miami U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer. “To date, we have prosecuted Social Security office employees, hospital employees, clinic workers, former NFL players, gang members and violent criminals, to name a few. Today, we sadly add law enforcement to the list of thieves.”
Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa could not be reached for comment.
Bazile and Frederick are among 11 Miami police officers relieved of duty in recent months who face criminal charges or the loss of their jobs in connection with the corruption investigation, which focused on the North District station in Liberty City.
In the unrelated case, Bernard Beliard, 27, of Miami, a state corrections officer since 2005, was arrested and accused of illegally tapping into an inmate database at the South Florida Reception Center in South Miami-Dade County, authorities say. He was fired Thursday.
All three law officers were charged in separate criminal complaints filed by prosecutors Robin Waugh and Michael Berger.
In the past year, including Thursday’s cases, the U.S. attorney’s office has charged about 130 defendants accused of an estimated $140 million in tax-refund fraud. Convictions have resulted in increasingly higher sentences: On Thursday, Jonathan Torres-Bonilla, 36, of Hollywood, convicted of fleecing $117,000 in tax refunds from the federal government, was slapped with 16 years in prison — the stiffest penalty so far in a South Florida ID-theft, tax-fraud case.
The U.S. government loses billions of dollars a year to refund schemes affecting millions of American taxpayers, according to the Treasury Department. South Florida is considered among the capitals of this type of fraud.
The joint FBI-Miami police corruption investigation was launched a year ago when the Liberty City sports gambling ring was broken up.
Last month, Miami officer Nathaniel Dauphin pleaded guilty to an extortion charge for providing protection for the illegal betting business.
Dauphin, 41, admitted he received between $4,000 and $5,000 from the owner of the illegal business from November 2010 until March of last year. Unbeknownst to him, Miami-Dade police detectives had the place under surveillance, witnessing Dauphin as he took money from the owner of the Player’s Choice, 6301 NW Sixth Ave., a barber shop that fronted for the illicit sports-betting business.
Investigators flipped Dauphin, who wore a wire and targeted other city cops, including Harold James, 29, an eight-year police veteran who resigned in November. He pleaded guilty last month to two extortion charges for protecting the Liberty City check-cashing business.
Also ensnared in that probe: Frederick.
But among the latest corruption cases, Bazile’s stands out for its sheer size, authorities say.
According to a criminal complaint, FBI and Miami police internal affairs detectives installed a tracking device on Bazile’s work-issued laptop in the past year after they uncovered that he had run more than 1,000 “suspicious” searches of people’s names in the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles database.
Investigators found that Bazile supplied some of those names, with dates of birth and Social Security numbers, to his step-brother Jean Baptiste Charles, to submit false tax returns to the Internal Revenue Service. Charles pleaded guilty last month and faces sentencing in April.
Investigators soon discovered that Bazile also obtained personal information for hundreds of women with the same last names, such as Rogers, Gonzalez, Martinez, Lopez and Sanders, who were between 57 and 61, according to the criminal complaint.
Bazile filed nearly identical tax returns — with fabricated income information — in their names, claiming that each had earned unemployment compensation of $6,500, the complaint said. He sought refunds up to $1,700 each.
Investigators also obtained numerous ATM photos of Bazile last summer as he withdrew thousands of dollars on debit cards loaded with the refunds, which were issued by the IRS.
When investigators confronted Bazile in October, he signed a written confession, admitting he used the state database, withdrew money from the ATM machines on the debit cards, and made between $130,000 and $140,000 in 2011-2012 from the “scheme.”
Investigators searched his home and found more debit cards, as well as ledgers with hundreds of people’s personal data.
Acting FBI special agent in charge William J. Maddalena said police officers such as Bazile and his colleague, Frederick, “have a great responsibility and must be held to a higher standard.”
He added that the FBI’s Miami-area corruption task force was established in 2009 to “ensure these high standards of integrity are met and maintained.”
Posted on December 17th, 2012 No comments
Two members of a local crime ring that spent more than $1 million with thousands of credit-card numbers that hackers stole from a California hotel have been sentenced to federal prison, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Friday.
Troy Henry, 37, of Orlando was sentenced to 13.5 years in prison; and Randall Rodgers, 32, of California was sentenced to 10 years.
Since August 2011, 12 other people have been sentenced to prison by a federal judge in Orlando for their roles in the credit-card fraud and identity theft scheme.
So far, the prison sentences handed down to the co-conspirators has ranged from two years to 13.5 years.
Secret Service agents in Orlando began investigating the ring in 2010 when they were notified by a San Diego agent, who traced fraud in Central Florida to a hacked computer at a California hotel.
Investigators said someone hacked the computer servers for the Se San Diego Hotel, and stored customers’ credit card data.
Agents tracked fraudulent activity related to the cards and found a “substantial” amount of spending at Target stores in Central Florida, court records said.
Prosecutors said the Central Florida ring and Rodgers bought stolen credit card information over the Internet from someone based in Azerbaijan.
Once the crime ring had the stolen credit card numbers, they used encoding machines and computer software to re-encode gift cards at retail stores to buy merchandise.
Prosecutors said Henry and Rodgers were leaders in the group.
Their co-conspirators had specific roles in the operation, prosecutors said.
Crime ring member Nancy Major used the fake credit cards to buy merchandise at retail stores in Central Florida. She was sentenced previously to five years in prison.
Posted on September 27th, 2012 No comments
TAMPA — The Internal Revenue Service is tripling the number of staff members nationwide who are dedicated to addressing the issue of identity theft tax refund fraud, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor said.
Castor, the Tampa Democrat, said she was briefed last Friday by IRS officials regarding progress the agency is making to tackle the epidemic of fraud in which the Tampa area leads the nation.
Thieves use stolen personal information — such as names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers — to file tax returns with fake income information and obtain fraudulent tax refunds.
According to a recent inspector general report, thieves in the Tampa area alone stole more than $400 billion last year from federal taxpayers this way. Nationwide, identity thieves are stealing billions from the federal government through refund fraud.
Castor said the IRS assured her it is increasing its screening filters, designed to detect fraudulent returns before refunds are issued. Across the board, law enforcement officials have repeatedly said the fraud is so pervasive, it cannot be stopped by arrests and prosecutions — that the IRS needs to stop sending “refunds” to thieves.
The IRS told Castor that so far this year, it has prevented 2.3 million fraudulent refunds from being issued, totaling $15 billion. That’s compared to 1.4 million fraudulent refunds stopped in 2011, worth $11 billion.
Part of that effort apparently involves increasing scrutiny of tax filings originating from Tampa, Castor noted.
“I said, ‘Geographically, where you know there is an epidemic, like the Tampa Bay area and the state of Florida, I assume filters are place.’ They said yes.
“They say they’re on the cusp of instituting many, multiple new filters to prevent the fraud from happening in the first place,” Castor said.
“So they will flag, for example, multiple returns coming to the same address. That’s a question I keep getting. How can it be that the IRS is sending multiple debit cards and returns to the same address over and over?”
Castor also noted something police have been saying: often crooks will use the same fake numbers repeatedly on numerous returns. For example, two suspects indicted this week were accused of filing 17 tax returns, each seeking refunds of $1,453.
The new filters, Castor says she was assured, “will flag that.”
While Castor was encouraged by the new IRS approach, she added, “I know from the folks coming to my office with checks and calls and people I see in the grocery store, this is still a huge problem and we’ve got to continue to press the IRS until Tampa no longer is number one for tax fraud.”
Castor said that she was told that by October, the agency will reallocate personnel to beef up the number of people dedicated to issues related to ID theft tax refund fraud. The agency will have more than 2,300 people addressing the issue, Castor said. These people are being moved from other areas and are not new hires.
The agency anticipates that by tax season, it will issue about 500,000 personal identification numbers to identity theft victims. The PIN numbers are designed to stop victims from being further harmed by having their real returns rejected.
The agency said it is “modernizing” its efforts to block use of information gained from the Social Security death master file, an online database of deceased individuals with their Social Security numbers and dates of birth. The data has been used extensively by refund fraud thieves.
Castor said she was pleased to see recent efforts by the federal government to address the fraud, including a directive issued this week by the Justice Department to speed up prosecutions and the arrests of some high-profile suspects.
The congresswoman said she spoke to the IRS about a pilot program in Florida in which identity theft victims can sign waivers giving law enforcement access to tax returns filed fraudulently in their names.
Castor said the IRS told her it has issued 750 of those waivers.
The amount of time it has taken the agency to address the issue is “not satisfactory at all,” Castor said. “But there are some positive signs here. We’ve got their attention.”
Posted on August 31st, 2012 No comments
Patients can’t be expected to act as partners in detecting medical identity theft if they don’t know what it is.
A recent survey of insured adults found that few patients know how to define medical ID theft properly. Even those familiar with the term “medical ID theft” were unlikely to define it correctly.
- 15% are familiar with the term “medical ID theft”
- 15% are able to define medical ID theft (of those familiar with the term)
- 19% think it would take less than two weeks to correct medical ID if stolen
- 22% believe the most likely consequence of medical ID theft is their insurance will be canceled
- 24% have checked medical records for fraud
- 32% think it’s likely that their medical identification will be stolen
- 56% think it’s likely their credit card or credit card number will be stolen
Source: “Medical ID Theft Study,” Nationwide Insurance, March
Posted on August 30th, 2012 No comments
Frustrated identity theft victims are swamping the Plantation office of the Internal Revenue Service, forming long lines to wait hours to speak to a representative – with one woman complaining of being told to come back at 4:30 a.m. to begin a new wait.
About 50 people waited outside in the hot sun for a chance to speak to a federal tax representative at 9:30 a.m Tuesday, an hour after the IRS office opened. Some brought umbrellas.
“It’s totally ridiculous. You should see the lines, how people have to stay in the lines,” said Broward retiree Hannah O. Singleton, an identity theft victim who said she waited four hours one day last week only to be told to come back another day. “There I was at the front of the line,” Singleton fumed.
IRS spokesman Mike Dobzinski said his agency is bringing in additional employees and taking other steps to shorten the wait. “We’re aware that there have been longer lines recently at the Plantation office, and we apologize for the inconvenience to taxpayers,” he said in an email.
Part of the reason for the long lines are that identity theft victims are coming into the IRS to find out why they still haven’t received their refund check four months after the tax season ended. Many of last year’s victims waited more than a year for their refunds, but the IRS promised to speed up the checks this year.
South Florida leads the nation’s metro areas in reports of identity theft. Nationwide, a record 1.1 million Americans were tax-related identity theft victims in 2011 – a 155 percent jump in just a year, according to a recent report issued by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.
In May, the Inspector General found that the IRS was acting too slowly and giving confusing instructions, “resulting in increased burden for the victims.”
A guard outside the Plantation IRS office said Tuesday morning all those waiting would be able to get in to talk to an agent. But one identity theft victim said she had already been turned away that morning by an IRS worker saying all the specialists who could help her were already booked.
“He said ‘You have to be here at 4:30 a.m.,'” said Ana Moise, of Margate. She said she took that to mean she had to get in line to wait at least four hours before the office opened – all for a chance to speak to someone that day.
Moise is still waiting to file an amended return. She said she forgot to list one of her former employers on her 2011 returns after someone beat her to filing a tax return in her name for a fraudulent refund.
“This is really tough,” Moise said. She had been hoping to get her taxes settled before her four kids go back to school on Monday. Plus, she said she is out of work and needs her refund to pay bills.
Another identity theft victim in line, Raquel Chavez, of Tamarac, also was anxious to get her refund after a thief claimed her Social Security number first to file a false claim. “I was promised I would get my refund in 12 to 16 weeks,” she said.
But no money so far, prompting Chavez to take time off from work Tuesday to find out the status of her refund.
Alan Feller, of Hollywood, has been trying to get his refund, too. He said his tax returns was held up after a thief beat him to filing in February, using his identity. He said the IRS staff first told him they were “backlogged and he would have to wait “a couple of weeks before filing the identity theft forms.” Then it would take another 90 days “for the investigation to be done,” Feller said.
“All they will say is my case is still under investigation and they have no other information,” he added.
That is prompting South Floridians to ask their elected officials for help.
“We are continuing to hear from constituents about this issue and we’re doing what we can to help them,” said Alex Conant, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
IRS’ Dobzinski said his agency will keep working to improve conditions, promising to “do everything we can to help taxpayers.
“We are working with our facilities people to determine ways that we can get people inside the building more quickly and reduce or eliminate the lines outside the building,” Dobzinski added.
Posted on August 23rd, 2012 No comments
A Florida hospital employee used a dead patient’s credit card information to purchase plane tickets, buy shoes and pay off her phone bill, police said.
Margaret Nunn, 53, who works as a patient registration representative, was arrested Wednesday, July 26th, on one count of identity theft and seven counts of credit card fraud.
Police said Nunn admitted stealing from the unidentified 63-year-old victim, who died in the emergency room at Sarasota Memorial Hospital on June 10.
“Within hours after his death his three credit cards were used to purchase airline tickets, bridal shoes, pay phone bills and other assorted items totaling over $1186.00,” Sarasota police said in a statement.
Detectives worked with the hospital’s public safety office to identify Nunn as a suspect, police said.
She was suspended from her job and was later terminated on June 29, said Kim Savage, spokeswoman for Sarasota Memorial Hospital.
“It was an isolated individual,” Savage said. “In this case she just wrote down the information while she was registering the patient.”
The hospital routinely conducts audits to ensure that employees are only accessing patient information for legitimate reasons, Savage said.
Nunn is being held at Sarasota County Jail and has a $10,000 bond.