Last Updated: 3:24 PM, March 30, 2012
Posted: 3:24 PM, March 30, 2012
Federal authorities are struggling to crack down on what they describe as a widespread scheme that has already likely defrauded the Internal Revenue Service of billions of dollars using the stolen identities of Puerto Rican citizens.
The perpetrators of the scheme, authorities say, swipe the Social Security numbers of Puerto Rican citizens, who don't have to pay federal income tax, and are less likely to be on the IRS radar, and use their information to file fake returns. In some cases, they enlist US mail carriers to intercept the refund checks that are disbursed.
The plot, which includes participants from around the US and Latin America, has been around for at least five years. Prosecutors have obtained multiple convictions but none involving those believed to be among the top players in the operation, according to several people briefed on investigations into the fraud.
"What we have uncovered may very well be the tip of the iceberg," said Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office was among the first to investigate the group. "It's a massive fraud."
Between October 2010 and June 2011, the IRS received phony tax returns based on stolen Puerto Rican identities that would have led to the disbursement of $5.6 billion to alleged fraudsters, two of these people said. It is unclear how much money the IRS ultimately sent but one person familiar with the matter said an estimated $2 billion in checks was distributed.
Robert Anthony Warren, a Bronx mail carrier, was sentenced in November to 36 months in prison for a related fraud. Having difficulty paying his rent, he agreed in 2007 to an offer from another mail carrier to accept $100 for each tax refund check he intercepted, according to sentencing documents.
Between 2007 and 2008, fraudulent tax refund checks totaling millions of dollars came through Warren's route. He was paid more than $25,000 for his participation, the documents show. Warren couldn't be reached for comment.
At least two other mail carriers have been sentenced for similar crimes tied to stolen identities from Puerto Rico.
Two people familiar with the investigation say the Puerto Rican tax scam was masterminded by a group in the Dominican Republic. Federal authorities caught on to it around 2007 and arrested people connected with the network, but have been unable to bring down people at the top level of the group, these people say.
To read more, go to The Wall Street Journal.