Monday, June 4, 2012

Five Sentenced for Their Roles in Stolen Identity Refund Fraud Scheme

Fahim Suleiman and Muuad Salem were sentenced to prison by U.S. District Court Judge James S. Gwin in connection with their roles as co-conspirators in a scheme to defraud the United States by obtaining false and fraudulent U.S. Treasury tax refund checks, the Justice Department and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced. According to documents filed with the court, the two participated in a conspiracy with others to file false United States income tax returns using personal identifying information, including names and Social Security numbers, of deceased taxpayers in order to obtain false tax refund checks that were subsequently sold and negotiated. Suleiman was sentenced to 64 months in prison, including a 24-month mandatory minimum sentence for aggravated identity theft. Salem was sentenced to 27 months in prison.

Judge Gwin had previously sentenced three co-conspirators. On May 29, 2012, Najeh Widdi was sentenced to 36 months in prison. Hanan Widdi and Hazem Woodi were sentenced on May 30, 2012, to prison terms of 21 months and 18 months, respectively. Judge Gwin ordered all five defendants to pay, jointly and severally, $177,744 in restitution to the IRS as part of their sentences.

Each of the defendants previously entered guilty pleas on March 13, 2012. Salem, Najeh Widdi, and Woodi pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to commit mail fraud and one count of mail fraud; Hanan Widdi pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to commit mail fraud; and Suleiman pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to commit mail fraud, three counts of mail fraud, and one count of aggravated identity theft.

Daxesj Patel also pleaded guilty on March 13, 2012 to two counts of submitting false claims for refund and one count of false statements. Patel is scheduled to be sentenced on June 8, 2012 by Judge Gwin.

“The Justice Department is working closely with the IRS to investigate and prosecute stolen identity refund fraud crimes,” said Assistant Attorney General Kathryn Keneally of the Justice Department’s Tax Division. “The sentences handed down in this and other cases show that identity thieves will pay a high price for their crimes.”

“The theft of anyone’s identity is a serious offense, but stealing the identities of the recently departed to defraud all the other taxpayers is particularly egregious,” said Steven M. Dettelbach, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio. “These sentences should cause anyone who would engage in this conduct to reconsider.”

“Individuals who commit refund fraud and identity theft of this magnitude deserve to be punished to the fullest extent of the law,” stated Richard Weber, Chief, IRS Criminal Investigation. “We, along with our law enforcement partners and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, continue to do our part in protecting the sanctity and integrity of the tax system and those individuals whose identities were stolen, as well as a monetary loss against the U.S. Treasury.”

According to the indictment, from April 2009 to at least August 2011, Najeh Widdi, Hanan Widdi, Hazem Woodi, Muaad Salem, Fahim Suleiman, Daxesj Patel, and other unnamed co-conspirators defrauded the United States by filing false and fraudulent tax returns, many in the names of recently deceased taxpayers. The co-conspirators directed the refunds to controlled locations in Florida. The U.S. Treasury checks generated by the false tax returns were sent by U.S. mail to co-conspirators located in Ohio. The Ohio co-conspirators then sold and distributed those U.S. Treasury checks for negotiation at various businesses and banking institutions. The IRS estimated that the scheme involved at least $1.7 million in fraudulently obtained tax returns. As part of their plea agreements, Suleiman, Hanan Widdi, Najeh Widdi, Salem, and Woodi admitted that the fraud loss caused by their conduct was between $1 and $2.5 million and that the offenses involved more than 10 victims.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary D. Arbeznik and Trial Attorney Jessica W. Knight of the Tax Division, presently on detail to a U.S. Attorney’s office in Ohio. The investigation was jointly handled by the Cleveland Division of the FBI, IRS-Criminal Investigation, and the U.S. Postal Service.

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