JONESBORO, Ark. – A phone scam which targeted many across northeast Arkansas, prompting several warnings from law enforcement, may have just been dealt a major blow.
Patrick C. Harris, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, J. Russell George, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), and Robert G. Feldt, Special-Agent-in-Charge, Social Security Administration, Dallas Field Division, announced Wednesday the unsealing of a superseding indictment and the Tuesday arrests of seven individuals who participated in a nationwide scheme to steal nearly $9 million from unsuspecting taxpayers by impersonating Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agents.
The superseding indictment, returned by a grand jury in the Eastern District of Arkansas on April 4, 2017 and unsealed Wednesday, charges 10 individuals with conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Two defendants—Jeniffer Valerino Nuñez and Dennis Delgado Caballero—were also named in 21 counts of wire fraud. Nuñez and Caballero, who were previously arrested in Miami on May 23, 2016, and remain in federal custody, were first named in the original indictment filed on June 8, 2016.
Tuesday’s operation, which lasted into the evening, resulted in the arrest of seven of the individuals named in the superseding indictment. Those seven are all Cuban nationals who were living in south Florida, primarily Miami. Tuesday’s arrests took place in Miami and West Palm Beach, Florida. Lazaro Hernandez Fleitas, 34, of Orlando, remains at large.
“This fraud scheme has victimized thousands of innocent people all across the country, including a number of citizens here in Arkansas,” Harris said. “These defendants pretended to be government employees and scared victims with spurious threats of legal action and imprisonment, and in doing so sought to take advantage of the most vulnerable among us. This indictment reflects our commitment to protecting our citizens from fraud, and holding accountable those who steal from honest citizens.”
In the scheme, individuals purporting to be employees of the IRS would call and threaten victims with legal action, arrest, and imprisonment for a supposed debt owed to the IRS. The callers made these threats and used other methods of intimidation to persuade the victims to wire money utilizing MoneyGram, Walmart-2-Walmart Money Transfer, and other wire-transfer services.
“No legitimate employee of the United States Treasury Department or the Internal Revenue Service will demand that anyone make payments via MoneyGram, Western Union, Walmart-2-Walmart Money Transfer, or any other money wiring method, for any debt to the IRS or the Department of the Treasury,” George said. “Nor will the Department of the Treasury demand that anyone pay a debt or secure one by using iTunes cards or other prepaid debit cards. If you receive one of these calls, hang up immediately and go to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) scam reporting page to report the call.”
In addition to Arkansas, investigators located wire transfer collections as part of the scheme in the following states: Oklahoma, Colorado, Indiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire, and Washington, D.C. Currently, investigators have identified 7,797 nationwide victims for a total discovered loss amount of $8,958,995.71.
“These arrests demonstrate that TIGTA and its law enforcement partners continue to make significant progress in our investigations related to the IRS impersonation scam that continues to sweep the country,” George said. “Over the past three years, this scam has resulted in reported taxpayer losses of more than $55 million. The scammers are relentless and so are we. Our investigators will not rest until we have brought those responsible for this scheme to justice.”
“The Social Security Administration, Office of the Inspector General (SSA-OIG) is committed to closely working with our law enforcement partners to pursue identity thieves who deceive and defraud American taxpayers,” Feldt said.
The maximum penalties for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud is not more than 20 years’ imprisonment, not more than a $250,000 fine, and not more than three years supervised release.
Investigators verified the identity of the suspects and their activities through a variety of investigative methods. TIGTA and the SSA-OIG led the investigation. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Hunter Bridges and Jana Harris.
An indictment contains only allegations. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.