Late Tuesday, United States Attorney Wilfredo A. Ferrer announced that a jury convicted Charlton Escarmant of one count of conspiracy to submit false claims to the Internal Revenue Service, one count of access device fraud, and two counts of aggravated identity theft, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida.
Sentencing for Charlton Escarmant, 29, of Miami, has been scheduled for June 17, 2013, before U.S. District Judge Lenard. He faces a possible statutory maximum sentence of 24 years in prison.
In October, Escarmant and co-conspirator Arthy Icart were charged in a five-count federal indictment for their participation in an identity theft tax refund scheme. According to testimony and evidence presented at trial, some of the personal identification information used to file fraudulent income tax returns by Escarmant and Icart was stolen from Tallahassee Community College’s financial aid office.
During testimony in the Escarmant trial, it was learned that more than 3,200 names found on his computer came from Tallahassee Community College.
To execute the scheme, Escarmant filed tax returns using the stolen identification information and also created false W-2 forms in his own name with fictitious employer information. Escarmant’s W-2 form falsely claimed that he was a veterinarian at Central Broward Animal Hospital. Escarmant never worked at the Central Broward Animal Hospital.
At the time of their arrest, Escarmant and Icart unlawfully possessed approximately 22 pre-paid tax debit cards in the names of other individuals. During the course of the scheme, they submitted approximately 400 fraudulent tax returns to the Internal Revenue Service, seeking more than $3.3 million in tax refunds.
Icart pled guilty in January to charges of conspiracy to file fraudulent claims, access device fraud, and aggravated ID theft. Sentencing in his case is scheduled for April 1st before U.S. District Judge Lenard.
During the press conference following Escarmant's conviction, Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the Strike Force and extended a special commendation to the IRS-CI and the North Miami Beach Police Department. Ferrer also thanked the Tallahassee Community College for their cooperation during this investigation.
The case on behalf of the government was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael B. Nadler and Elina Rubin-Smith.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, the state of Florida had the highest rate of identity theft in the United States last year. While Florida ranks highest in the nation for identity theft, the incidence rate in Miami has reached epidemic proportions. Although Florida’s rate of 178 identity theft complaints per 100,000 residents is the highest in the nation, it is dwarfed by the Miami rate of 324.1 complaints per 100,000 residents.
A report by the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration last September determined that Florida has the highest rate of stolen identity tax refund fraud in the United States. The report identified 74,496 potentially fraudulent returns filed in Miami alone that resulted in more than $280 million in fraudulent refunds.
The City of Miami’s per capita number of false income tax returns based on identity theft was 46 times the national average and its per capita stolen income tax refund fraud dollar value was more than 70 times the national average.
Tax return identity theft in the United States is expected to grow subtantially. According to the TIGTA report, the Internal Revenue Service estimates that they could issue as much as $21 billion in fraudulent tax refunds over the next five years.
In an attempt to combat the rising wave of stolen identity income tax refund scams and armed with newly enhanced investigative and prosecutorial tools under the Department of Justice’s Tax Directive 144, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida established the South Florida Identity Theft Tax Fraud Strike Force. Members of the Strike Force include IRS-CI, U.S. Secret Service, FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, City of Aventura Police Department, Miami-Dade Police Department, North Miami Beach Police Department, and the SSA-OIG.
The focus of the Identity Theft Tax Refund Strike Force is to investigate and prosecute stolen income tax refund scams in South Florida.