Posted on June 25th, 2013 No comments
It’s not only the glaring sun and the threat of dog bites that South Florida’s mail carriers must contend with as they go door to door delivering the mail — sometimes they come under physical attack from the people who live along their delivery routes. From criminals intent on committing identity fraud to customers with poor anger management skills, letter carriers say they have noticed an increase in such attacks in recent years.
“We have more brazen offenders approaching letter carriers and even threatening them or assaulting them,” said Ivan Ramirez, a U.S. Postal Inspector in Miramar. “A lot of people don’t realize that if you mess with a federal employee, then it’s a federal crime and you could do some serious prison time.”
Among the cases prosecuted in federal court in recent years were a father and son from Oakland Park, Donald and Kevin Lincks, now 64 and 31, who were sentenced to a year in prison for beating a postal worker in June 2009 after he refused to give them their mail on the street because he didn’t know them.
A Palm Beach County man, David Jason Agosto, 36, is serving 8 1/2 years in federal prison for assaulting a postal worker who he believed was flirting with his girlfriend while delivering mail at her workplace, the state Department of Children & Families in Lake Worth in 2008.
And three men are serving lengthy federal prison terms for their roles in the December 2010 murder of postal worker Bruce Parton, 60, of Pembroke Pines, who was shot while being robbed of a master key in north Miami-Dade.
The U.S. Postal Service said it does not keep statistics on such crimes, but trains workers on how to stay safe and pursues criminal charges against offenders.
Assaulting postal employees can have serious consequences — it is a federal crime that is prosecuted under the same law as assaulting an FBI agent. Attacking a federal employee while they’re carrying out their duties carries punishments that range from one to 20 years in prison.
Ramirez said the downturn in the economy and the prevalence of identity thieves, who sometimes target letter carriers because they want to rob master keys that open community mailboxes, have coincided with more attacks on carriers.
Court records show that at least seven people have faced federal prosecution for assaulting and injuring letter carriers in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties since 2008. Those numbers don’t tell the whole story, officials said, because assailants are also prosecuted for related crimes, like fraud or robbery, and can also face state charges.
In federal court in West Palm Beach last week, U.S. Magistrate Judge Dave Lee Brannon praised prosecutors for their evenhanded approach to a complicated case involving a mentally ill woman who investigators said attacked a letter carrier delivering mail in Lantana in September.
Mailman Bruce Tabano, 60, suffered a concussion, chipped tooth and facial cuts when Donna Rose Angelo, 49, attacked him at his work truck near North Ridge Drive and Flamingo Drive, according to the complaint.
Tabano told investigators Angelo told him to give her the mail, punched him in the face, then came at him again in an aggressive manner.
“The carrier then reached for his dog spray and heard the woman say ‘If you spray me, I’ll f—ing kill you, I’m crazy,'” postal inspectors wrote.
Angelo, who has a history of violent disturbances, told police that she did not understand when they read her legal rights to her, tried to run off and said she didn’t mean to hit the mailman, investigators said.
Her diagnosis was not made public, but her lawyer said Angelo would pursue an insanity defense if formal charges are filed. Experts said she is mentally incompetent and she has spent the past few months being treated in a federal medical prison in Texas.
Prosecutor John McMillan told the judge Wednesday that efforts to restore her to competency have failed. Brannon ordered that she be assessed to see if she poses a danger to the community before deciding what to do next.
“These are not easy cases, these are not easy issues,” Brannon said, adding that he felt prosecutors were looking out for the best interests of the victim, suspect and community.
Mike Gill, the president of Branch 1071 of the National Association of Letter Carriers which represents workers in Miami-Dade, southern Palm Beach and most of Broward, said his members have reported an increase in assaults, though not a dramatic one. Gill said he thinks some of it is linked to the rise in identity theft.
“It’s definitely been more of an issue in recent years and we warn our members that if something doesn’t feel right, they should get out of the area and involve their supervisor and the police,” he said.
Just as mail carriers look out for their customers, alerting authorities when they notice something suspicious, Gill said he hopes people in the community look out for the safety of postal service employees. “Letter carriers are out there six days a week, and we try to be the eyes and ears for the community.”
Ramirez, the postal inspector who investigates crimes, said the postal service has increased its investigative efforts in recent years and introduced programs to make sure employees are looking out for their personal safety.
Debbie Fetterly, a U.S. Postal Service spokeswoman in South Florida, said employee safety is a priority.
“USPS always tells employees that they are our most valuable resource and that we want to deliver them home safely each day,” Fetterly said. Safeguards include special training and awareness programs as well as having a threat assessment team that evaluates and takes action on serious threats made to employees, she said.
Run to support marathon victims free and open to public.
Members of the Baptist Health Brickell Run Club will be holding a silent run Tuesday night as a gesture of support for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.
Runners will gather at 7 p.m. at the Fortune International Parking Lot at 1300 Brickell Avenue for the 3.5 mile run, which is free and open to the public.
Baptist Health will be providing bottles of water for all the runners, who are encouraged to wear white or past running event shirts. Special Boston Marathon mock bibs are also being made for runners to wear.
The club holds the event every Tuesday and generally gets between 300-400 runners, but are expected as many as 1,000 in light of Monday’s tragedy in Boston, event organizer Frankie Ruiz said.
Ruiz, who is also a co-founder of the Miami Marathon, said he was shocked by the bombings in Boston, which killed three and injured several others.
“I never would have thought it would happen at the finish line of a race like this,” Ruiz said Tuesday. “That race means a lot so to see the tragedy take place in that scenario, it’s a bit tougher to swallow.”
Ruiz said he knew many runners competing Monday through the Miami event, which is an official qualifier or the Boston Marathon.
“For many people, to make it to Boston is a dream come true, it gives a purpose to their running,” he said. “I guess you can call it the holy grail of running, one of the most competitive ones.”
He said organizers of the Miami Marathon have always had security measures in place for the event, and have had discussions about the type of incident that happened in Boston, but may refine and adjust their security plans in the wake of the tragedy.
No matter what, Ruiz said, the sport will continue to prosper.
“Running itself is just going to be that much stronger,” Ruiz said. “A tragedy like this, people are just going to stand up to it.
“This doesn’t stop us, we’re gonna keep doing what we do.”
On the same summer day that an Indiana scalper sold a $1,000 pair of counterfeit Miami Heat playoff tickets to a Coral Springs man, he was arrested at AmericanAirlines Arena for selling fake $600 tickets to undercover Miami-Dade detectives, authorities say. Tony McKibben, 44, extradited from the Hoosier State, was in Broward County court Monday morning to answer to the resulting grand theft charge.
Tax Day is no longer just a deadline for citizens to rush and file their returns. It’s now a day for members of Congress — Democrats and Republicans alike —to file legislation or announce ways to prevent an estimated $5 billion in tax-identification fraud, which is particularly virulent in Florida and especially South Florida.
The effort by local lawmakers is nothing new, nor is the fact that the measures have died year-after-year in a do-nothing Congress.
On Monday, Miami-area Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Joe Garcia and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen all promoted legislation to put an end to the practice. Florida Sen. Bill Nelson announced a bill last week.
“Something needs to be done,” said Jon Simpkins, a Miami-Dade businessman who appeared with his wife, a tax-ID fraud victim, at Garcia’s press conference.
It took the Internal Revenue Service until April 8 to supply the family their tax-refund money from last year — a week before this year’s tax-filing deadline.
“I’m surprised they haven’t fixed this yet,” Simpkins said, detailing the delays and difficulties of just getting the IRS to do its job.
But the delay in fixing the growing problem isn’t just a window into the problems with the IRS. It’s an example of a broken Congress that struggles to accomplish the most-basic of tasks — including an issue members of all parties agree on: Stopping fraud.
Last year, for instance, Sen. Nelson’s crackdown bill stalled and died in the Senate because leadership said it didn’t want to deal with any new tax issues or tax reform — except for figuring out what to do with the then-expiring payroll tax cuts and the so-called Bush tax cuts.
So even though Nelson’s bill was more of a fraud-fighting proposal, it was considered tax legislation. And it was bottled up by the advent of the so-called “fiscal cliff” and budget-sequester negotiations. The bill could face another challenge this year: the banking-and-credit industry.
Nelson wants to make it tougher for thieves to get tax refunds electronically direct-deposited on prepaid debit cards. The cards have become increasingly common ways for regular citizens to get their returns credited to a bank account electronically. But, because the cards can be purchased by phone or internet and leave few fingerprints, scammers use them as well.
Tax ID fraud is simple and lucrative. Thieves purchase Social Security numbers and names of people on the black market. Then they download tax forms electronically, plug in the stolen information and file false returns. They request refunds be sent to prepaid cards or, less often, by check.
The scam is usually pulled in January and February. Most citizens file weeks or months later. If someone used their information on a tax form, the IRS then refuses to instantly pay the citizen as it did the scammer. Victims then wait for months or, in Simpkin’s case, almost a year for their refund.
Broward Sheriff Detective Mitch Gordon warned that cracking down on debit cards won’t stop the crime entirely. But he said the cards are a good way to steal.
“One time, we had one guy who sat at a Western Union machine for six hours just putting in debit cards, putting in debit cards,” said Gordon, who estimated the office has had 400 complaints this year.
The Miami area is the top tax-related identity theft area in the nation, and Florida has nine of the top 10 cities for the fraud.
South Florida accounted for 35,914 identity-theft complaints in 2012.
“It has happened to so many people,” said Rep. Garcia. “It happened to me.”
Garcia’s bill isn’t as sweeping as Nelson’s. It would change the law to forbid the printing of a person’s entire Social Security Number on a W-2 tax form, a major primary source for thieves who obtained them from unscrupulous employees or employers.
Wasserman-Schultz, a Democrat like Garcia, wants to increase penalties and make federal prosecutors prioritize tax ID cases.
Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, is co-sponsoring both bills.
“These bills focus much needed attention to identity theft, a problem that is clearly not a victimless crime,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement.
Another Republican Rep., Mario Diaz-Balart, hasn’t studied the legislation but has held IRS officials to account in budget hearings. He tacked on an amendment to a budget bill that requires the agency to better track tax ID theft cases.
With such bipartisan support for such an important topic, Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, said she hopes something will pass. “It seems like a no-brainer,” she said.
Posted on April 10th, 2013 No comments
A gang called the North Miami Boyz stole the identities of current and former Miami-Dade students to file at least 1,000 fraudulent tax refunds, police said.
Authorities said they know of at least $1.6 million in returns that were filed in the identity theft and tax fraud scheme. According to an indictment, the North Miami Boyz carried out their scheme from about January 2010 to December 2011 – but police warn that the source of the students’ personal data still hasn’t been determined.
Investigators said the group portrayed themselves as music industry moguls, flashing jewelry and big cash, but it was all a front for the tax fraud scheme using students’ personal information to get tax refunds.
“Every single victim that we came across was either a current or former student of Miami-Dade public schools,” North Miami Beach Police Detective Craig Catlin told NBC 6. “So there is a point of compromise with the Miami-Dade public school system.”
Lesley Dunn, a former student at Palmetto Senior High School, was one of the victims.
“My information was exposed (through) the county schools, and my identity was stolen,” she said.
Dunn said police came to visit her when she was a student at Palmetto Senior High. Someone had gotten a hold of her private personal data, filled out a tax return and even received a refund – all by posing as her.
“There was a ring of thieves, I guess you would call it, associated with the Dade County school system, that had been stealing IDs or Social Security numbers,” said her mother, Debbie Dunn.
She was just one of many teens victimized, according to police.
“They probably did at least a thousand fraudulent refunds,” Catlin said. “But they attempted a lot more than they received.”
Federal prosecutors took the North Miami Boyz – identified by authorities as Willman Philidor, Alland Philidor, Frantz Plantin, Frantz Desir and Arthur Blain – to court after their arrests on tax fraud charges. They entered guilty pleas and are now in federal prison.
Catlin said the estimated 1,000 victims so far are at multiple schools. Social Security numbers were just part of the personal information obtained, and the students were given fake jobs on the tax returns so the IRS would process the refunds.
“The IRS, as far as I know, cannot flag your name to prevent a fraudulent return from going through,” Catlin said.
Federal agents and police said the North Miami Boyz also set up fake businesses to take in the tax refunds filed from the returns using in the students’ data.
“They actually set up business accounts pretending to be actual businessmen and they did fraudulent returns on the computer,” Catlin said.
Catlin said the source of the students’ personal data hasn’t been determined, and students across the public school system are still at risk of having their identities stolen too. Police are still investigating “the point of compromise from the school system,” he said.
A Miami-Dade County Public Schools spokesman sought to reassure parents about the safety of their kids’ information.
“Approximately two years ago the school district took very swift, decisive action to limit access to student information at all school sites,” said John Schuster, the school district’s chief communications officer, in a statement. “This highly effective, multi-pronged approach should help parents feel confident that their children’s information is secure.”
Now, students and former students like Lesley Dunn are going to have to wait and see what impact the scheme could have on their credit and finances.
“I don’t really know how it’s going to affect me later in life, but hopefully nothing horrible,” Dunn said.