CINCINNATI - A federal grand jury has charged seven people who lived in the Tri-State with using stolen identities to rack up as much as $10 million in fraudulent income tax refunds.
The indictment, which was announced Friday morning, includes seven people — six of whom are citizens of Zimbabwe. The people named on the indictment are 34-year-old Kudzaiishe Marimbire, 30-year-old Hlomera Mabhande, 37-year-old Johanes Tagarisa, 26-year-old Kudzaishe R. Bungu, 23-year-old Tawanda Marimbire, 22-year-old Andrew Bere and 32-year-old Julius Marimbire.
The IRS estimates that in the last five years, the defendants filed IRS refunds claims that totaled as much as $10 million, according to information released Friday by the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, Carter Stewart.
“The indictment alleges that the defendants stole personal identifying information for thousands of actual people,” said Stewart in a news release. “They allegedly used this information to file false federal income tax returns to obtain refunds, often before the actual taxpayers ever filed legitimate tax returns. The defendants usually received the fraudulent refunds on debit cards tied to the returns.”
Once the false income tax refunds were deposited on the prepaid debit cards, the defendants and others working on their behalf allegedly cashed them in at ATM machines or by purchasing money orders. The cash was then allegedly sent through bank wires to other people in the operation in Africa who purchased expensive vehicles in the United States and had them transported to Zimbabwe.
Kudzaiishe Marimbire and his brother, Julius, started a tax preparation service in approximately 2007 to help with their effort, according to the indictment.
All seven are charged with conspiracy, which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The indictment also includes charges of fraud, aggravated identity theft, money laundering, making false claims and filing false income tax returns.
Five of the defendants are fugitives. Tawanda Marimbire is in custody outside of Ohio and will be returned to Cincinnati to face the charges. Bungu has been summoned to appear in federal court in Cincinnati on Sept. 13, according to the release.
Mark Porter, Secret Service special agent in charge, said identity theft has emerged as a major threat to our nation's financial infrastructure. It's the secret service's investigative mission to protect our financial infrastructure.
"There are multiple ways that a citizens identity can be stolen," Porter said. "For example, the taking of a victim's trash from their home, to the stealing of their mail, to their home being or their vehicle being burglarized, or as simple as losing a purse or a wallet."
Porter said that stolen identities are being bought online. In this case, Porter said $1.5 million of the stolen assets were recovered, of which $1.2 was in cash and $300,000 in luxury vehicles.
Darryl Williams, special agent in charge, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, Cincinnati Field Office (IRS), also spoke at the Friday morning press conference.
"The IRS is aggressively pursuing those who steal others' identities in order to file false returns," IRS Special Agent in Charge Williams said. "Our cooperative work with the U. S. Attorney's Office and other law enforcement agencies will help protect taxpayers in the Cincinnati area, as well as the State of Ohio, from being victimized by identity theft and bring identity thieves to justice."
Williams said If you feel you were a victim of identity theft, go to irs.gov or call (800) 908-4490 for more information.
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