CINCINNATI – Two people learned were sentenced Thursday for their part in using “trickery, dishonesty and deceit” to steal the identities of taxpayers and claim at least $5 million in fraudulent tax refunds.
Tawanda Marimbire, 25, of Cincinnati was sentenced in U.S. District Court to 70 months in prison for his role in the scheme, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He pleaded guilty Jan. 15, 2013 to one count of wire fraud.
The release indicates Marimbrie’s co-conspirator, 28-year-old Kudzaishe Robert Bungu, was sentenced to 27 months in prison. Bungu pleaded guilty Dec. 17, 2012 to one count of engaging in illegal monetary transactions.
“Individuals who commit refund fraud and identity theft of this magnitude and with this degree of trickery, dishonesty and deceit, deserve to be punished to the fullest extent of the law,” IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Kathy A. Enstrom said.
In early 2012, the Secret Service and IRS began investigating a large ring of individuals around the Cincinnati community who were using stolen identities to file fraudulent income tax returns and then steal the fraudulent tax refunds, according to the release.
“Members of the ring purchased stolen identities for thousands of actual taxpayers through illicit online forums and from accomplices. The undisputed head of the scheme was Kudzaiishe Marimbire, the brother of Tawanda Marimbire,” Carter M. Stewart, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, said in the release.
Stewart said most of the stolen funds were laundered and sent to Zimbabwe.
On April 11, 2012, government agents executed a search at several locations. They seized numerous luxury cars, computers, and tax documents. They also found more than $1 million in cash and money orders in a storage locker used by the Marimbire ring.
After the search, several members of the group immediately fled the Cincinnati area. Kudzaiishe Marimbire, Hlomera Mabhande, Andrew Bere and Julius Marimbire fled to Zimbabwe and are fugitives.
Tawanda Marimbire was arrested days after the search as he attempted to cross the Canadian border with about $76,000 in cash.
Police arrested Johanes Tagarisa in Atlanta months after the seven were indicted in September 2012. He pleaded guilty on Dec.10, 2013 to one count of conspiracy and is awaiting sentencing.
Others charged as a result of the ongoing investigation include:
>Tinotende Madyira, 25, sold a list of stolen identities to Kudzaishe Marimbire. He pleaded guilty to identity theft and was sentenced to 12 months and one day of imprisonment.
>Liberty Matonhodze, 25, working for Bungu, he was involved in withdrawing the refunds from the debit cards at ATMs. He was sentenced to 12 months and one day of imprisonment, plus restitution of $120,000.
>Fitzgerald Chibamu, 36, was involved with Kudzaiishe Marimbire in the transfer of the stolen funds through his bank accounts to Zimbabwe. He has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.
>Charges are pending against Lameigo Mutongwiza and Zla Holder, indicted Nov. 6, 2013.
“This case is a perfect example of the emerging problem with tax refunds obtained through the use of stolen identities,” Stewart said. “In 2012, around the same time that this case was investigated and indicted, the Department of Justice announced a new directive to fight this exact scheme, which was named ‘stolen identity refund fraud’ or ‘SIRF.’”
Enstrom said the IRS Criminal Investigation remains committed to the pursuit of refund fraud and identity theft.
“Together with our partners at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, we will hold those who engage in similar conduct accountable,” she said.