South Florida Stolen Identity Fraud Strike Force Announces Charges in More Than 80 Cases

Tuesday, January 31, 2017
Office Affiliation: 

From the U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Florida:

Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Kelly R. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), Miami Field Office, George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, Miami Field Office Juan P. Perez, Director, Miami Dade Police Department (MDPD), Timothy Camus, Deputy Inspector General for Investigations, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), Rafiq Ahmad, Special Agent in Charge, United States Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, Miami Field Office (DOL-OIG), Mark Selby, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI), Brian Swain, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Secret Service (USSS), Miami Field Office, Antonio J. Gomez, Inspector in Charge, U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), Miami Division, and Margaret Moore-Jackson, Special Agent in Charge, Social Security Administration, Office of Inspector General (SSA-OIG) announce the filing of federal charges against more than 100 defendants in 81 separate cases, dealing with over 30,000 stolen identities and the intended theft of over $60 million dollars from individuals, businesses and government agencies through fraudulent schemes.

In August 2012, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, with the collaboration of our federal, state and local law enforcement partners, established the South Florida Identity Theft Refund Fraud Strike Force (Strike Force) to combat an increase in stolen identity tax refund scams. The collective efforts of the Strike Force resulted in the successful prosecution of countless stolen identity tax refund cases. However, while the wave of these pernicious offenses subsided, evolving fraud schemes have spread across South Florida. No longer limited to stolen identity tax refund fraud, the Strike Force, now Stolen Identity Fraud (SIF) Strike Force is investigating and prosecuting a variety of cases stemming from stolen personal identifying information (PII). These cases include intrusion into proprietary government databases; theft of customer account information; takeovers by identity thieves of accounts as diverse as U.S. Social Security and unemployment benefits, retail credit card accounts, and bank accounts; and the use of skimmers to steal valuable PII. These cases demonstrate that law enforcement in general and the Strike Force in particular continue to adapt to meet this insidious identity theft threat.

Since the inception of the Strike Force in 2012, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has charged more than 600 defendants, who were responsible for over $400 million in intended losses.

“Law enforcement will not stand by as criminals attempt to disrupt our lives, steal our savings, ravage our credit, and compromise our government benefit programs through calculated and pervasive fraud schemes,” stated U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer. “Today’s announcement demonstrates that the collective response by our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners has had a profound impact on protecting the community from identity theft.”

“I urge everyone to take steps to protect their personally identifiable information (PII) from criminals who seek illicit profits through stolen identity fraud,” said George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Miami. “Learn how you can protect your PII at FBI.GOV or FTC.GOV. The FBI and our partners continue to actively target these fraudsters who victimize hard-working taxpayers.”

Kelly R. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), stated, “Today’s announcement reinforces law enforcement’s continued commitment to combat identity theft in South Florida. As an agency, the IRS has made remarkable progress in its efforts to protect taxpayers, and we are focused on strengthening our systems and processes even more for this 2017 tax season. I urge taxpayers to protect their personal information and remain vigilant when choosing a return preparer. Beware of return preparers who claim they can get you a ‘higher’ refund then another preparer and those that set their fee based on a percentage of your refund. Ultimately, the taxpayer is responsible for what is filed with the IRS, so choose wisely. IRS-CI will continue to investigate significant Stolen Identity Refund Fraud (SIRF) schemes and egregious tax return preparers, and will collaborate with other federal agencies and IRS civil divisions to stop these thieves in their tracks.”

Cases with SSA OIG involvement:

Miami Gardens Woman Charged with Stealing Patient PII from Health System, Filing Fraudulent Tax Returns 

On January 26, 2017, Evelina Sophia Reid, 35, of Miami Gardens, was charged in a 14-count indictment with conspiracy to commit access device fraud, possessing 15 or more unauthorized access devices, aggravated identity theft, and computer fraud.

According to the indictment and publicly available documents, Reid was an employee of Jackson Health System when she accessed Jackson’s computer databases to steal patient PII, including Social Security numbers (SSNs), of over approximately 24,000 individuals during a five-year period. Using the stolen information, Reid’s co-conspirators filed fraudulent tax returns in the names of Jackson Hospital patients. 

Mr. Ferrer commends the investigative efforts of SSA-OIG, IRS-CI, USSS, DOL-OIG, MDPD Professional Compliance Bureau and Public Corruption Section, and the Miami-Dade County Office of the Inspector General. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Daya Nathan.

Miami Man Charged with Filing Fraudulent Unemployment Claims

On January 26, 2017, Phyllistone Termine, 19, of Miami, was charged by criminal complaint for access device fraud, possession of 15 or more unauthorized access devices, possession of device making equipment, and aggravated identity theft related to his alleged participation in a fraudulent unemployment compensation scheme.

According to the court record, including allegations contained in the criminal complaint, an IP address connected to Termine’s residence was used to access and file fraudulent unemployment benefit claims for more than 800 individuals on the Florida Department of Employment and Opportunity’s online database between March 23, 2015, and March 7, 2016.

During the course of the investigation, law enforcement executed a search warrant at Termine’s residence and allegedly discovered the defendant in his bedroom, writing on a small notepad. The first line on the notepad read “Summer 2016th” and stated “Buy 3 Phones, 1 clean 2 dirty’s” and “Buy online – Merrick BNK & CCVs.” CCVs are numeric fraud-prevention codes on credit cards that are used to help verify possession of your credit card. They can also be purchased from internet sources, in order for people to obtain stolen credit card data. On the bed next to Termine were three cellular phones and a laptop computer. Hidden between the defendant’s mattress and box spring was a black case containing several debit and credit cards belonging to individuals who did not reside at Termine’s residence. Inside the black case were several white blank plastic cards with magnetic stripes that are used to make debit and credit cards. On the floor next to Termine’s bed was hardware used to encode the magnetic stripe on credit/debit cards. Several victims whose credit or debit cards were found during the search also had their identities used to file for unemployment benefits using the IP Address at Termine’s home. These victims had not filed unemployment claims within the last five years, did not authorize anyone else to, and did not know Termine.

Mr. Ferrer commends the investigative efforts of DOL-OIG and SSA-OIG. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Anne P. McNamara.

Three Charged with Using Stolen SSNs to Redirect Social Security Benefits

On January 27, 2017, James Kelly Morency, 21, of Hallandale Beach, Frantzy Morency, 26, of Lehigh Acres, and Jakeem Amal Stevens, 28, of Hollywood, were charged in a 13-count indictment with conspiracy to commit access device fraud, aggravated identity theft, possession of 15 or more unauthorized access devices, access device fraud, and computer fraud.

According to the indictment, between May 2011 and February 2015, the defendants possessed, transferred and used the SSNs of other persons to obtain Social Security benefits by creating online accounts with SSA with the stolen SSNs belonging to other persons and having the Social Security benefits redirected to accounts that the defendants controlled.

Mr. Ferrer commends the investigative efforts of the FBI, SSA-OIG, and IRS-CI. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Daya Nathan.