Federal Authorities Arrest Dozens in South Florida for Tax Fraud and Identity Theft

October 10, 2012 by David S. Seltzer

As a criminal defense attorney in Miami, I was very interested to see an announcement that the FBI has made dozens of high-profile tax fraud arrests. As the Miami Herald reported Oct. 10, federal authorities have arrested more than 40 people in South Florida for using stolen personal information to file false income tax returns, then collect tax refund money. The defendants include a Miami Gardens man who is already a suspect in the triple murder of two women and a six-month-old baby. Charges were not yet announced on Wednesday morning, but were expected by the end of the day; reports suggested that they would include charges of identity theft as well as fraud against the IRS.

The Herald did not specify the total number of people arrested except to say it was “more than 40,” but it did highlight the arrest of Lineten Belizaire, 21, who is awaiting trial on a triple murder charge. Belizaire is accused of killing Octavia Barnett, 21; Natasha Plummer, 25; and Carlton Stringer Jr., Plummer’s six-month-old son. He was out on bail while awaiting a trial in state court, but was taken into federal custody for the charges, which the newspaper said include identity theft and tax fraud.

The arrests were made by a new task force focusing on tax fraud in South Florida; the force is a joint effort of local law enforcement agencies with the FBI and the IRS. It was formed after an announcement by the Treasury Department that criminals file 1.5 million false income tax returns a year using stolen identities, receiving fraudulent refunds that cost the federal government $5.2 billion a year. Major cities with the most fraudulent refunds included Miami, with fraudulent refunds of $280.5 million, as well as Tampa, with fraudulent refunds of more than $468 million. Indeed, Miami saw high-profile arrests in August of a tax fraud ring that included former University of Miami football player William Joseph as well as a former NFL teammate of his, William Bennett. To expedite tax fraud prosecutions, the Justice Department agreed in September to permit local federal prosecutors to make arrests without first getting approval from the DOJ’s Tax Division in Washington.

Though the charges are not yet announced, as an experienced defense lawyer, I would expect the defendants to face charges of identity theft and tax fraud at a minimum. The description of this scheme in the media suggests that defendants will be accused of stealing identities, filing false tax returns and cashing checks that rightfully belong to someone else. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the charges, they could also be accused of being part of an organized crime syndicate, mail fraud or even crimes of violence. Filing a false income tax return alone can get the accused up to a year in prison for each false return; identity theft of this magnitude can get the accused as much as up to 15 years in prison. These are very serious charges, which is why it’s absolutely vital for these defendants to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Seltzer Law, P.A., represents clients facing serious federal charges including tax charges and identity theft, and we strongly advise anyone accused to start organizing a defense right away.

If you’re accused of identity theft, tax fraud or other serious criminal charges in Florida, you should call the experienced criminal defense team at Seltzer Law, P.A., in downtown Miami. We answer the phone 24 hours a day and seven days a week, because we know arrests don’t stop after business hours. You can reach us toll-free at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) or send us an email anytime.

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