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19 jailed in tax fraud

2 suspects at large in ongoing probe

19 jailed in tax fraud

19 jailed in tax fraud

Victoria H. Ash


Federal agents arrested 19 people Tuesday, bringing the total of suspects in a Statesboro-area tax fraud and identity theft case to 56 arrests. Two suspects remain fugitives. This week’s roundup follows previous arrests earlier this year and in 2013.

United States Attorney Edward Tarver said out of the 56 arrests so far, 39 are federal and 17 are state arrests. Agents rounded up 13 of 15 federal suspects and six state suspects in a sweep conducted Tuesday. Suspects arrested in previous roundups have been sentenced, and further arrests are possible as the investigation continues.

Five federal indictments, unsealed Thursday in federal court, charged 15 additional defendants for “their roles in a large-scale identity theft and tax fraud scheme,” he said. “Each of the indictments alleges that the defendants were involved in using stolen identities to submit bogus income tax returns and to fraudulently receive tax refunds to which they were not entitled.”

The joint federal and state investigation of identity theft and tax fraud rings operating in and around the Statesboro area revealed the suspects arrested Tuesday allegedly operated around the Claxton area.  The investigation is still ongoing, he said.

While officers took 13 of the 15 federal defendants into custody Tuesday, two remain at large. Agents are seeking federal defendants Santana Lundy, 29, of Statesboro, and Katrina Beasley, 32, of Claxton, who both remain fugitives.

Agents also arrested six defendants indicted on state charges, he said.  All federal suspects arrested Tuesday appeared Thursday before U. S. Magistrate Judge G.R. Smith in the federal courthouse in Statesboro.

Federal arrests include Aishia Mills, 21; Chrystal Harlie, 33;  Latasha Charles, 29, Statesboro; Melissa Whitfield, 34; Monica Whitfield, 33; Santana Lundy (still at large) 29;  and Stacy Williams, 41, all of Statesboro.

Also, Angellica Roberts, 28; Candace Hills,  24; Mary McDilda, 63; Katrina Beasley (still at large), 32, and Marquita Watson, 31, all of Claxton: Martisha Hill, 41, Augusta; Deondray Richardson, 40, Keysville and Terry Gordon, 33, Swainsboro.

State suspects arrested Tuesday are Chrystal Key, 40; Antonia Key, 43; Whitney G. Perkins, 27;  and Latoya J. Wilkerson, 28, all of Statesboro: Sheena Littles, 29, Register and Victoria H. Ash, 43, Claxton.

“Our operation has already resulted in dozens of convictions followed by lengthy prison sentences,” Tarver said.  “The U. S. Attorney’s Office and our federal and state law enforcement partners will not stop until the individuals running these identity theft and tax fraud rings within our district are found, prosecuted, and sentenced.”

J. Britt Johnson, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Atlanta Field Office, said “The additional charges and arrests not only demonstrate the extensive nature of this tax fraud scheme but also the law enforcement resolve to address it.  The FBI will continue to partner with its various law enforcement agencies to ensure that this type of criminal activity is firmly addressed and brought to a halt.”

The efforts included support from local law enforcement agencies as well.

“The Statesboro Police Department is proud of the continued investigative efforts regarding the defrauding of our citizens’ tax dollars,” said Statesboro Public Safety Director Wendell Turner. “Keeping up this type of pressure over the course of several years will hopefully send a strong message to the offenders that we will not waver in our efforts to deter their criminal behavior and if they continue this type of behavior, they will be arrested and prosecuted.  We are also thankful for our continued partnerships with all of our local and federal counterparts that result in these types of successes.”

If convicted, each federal defendant faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for the wire fraud conspiracy and wire fraud charges, a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison for the theft of public money and access device fraud charges, a maximum penalty of five years in prison for the conspiracy to commit theft of public money charge, and a two-year mandatory, consecutive prison sentence for each charge of aggravated identity theft, Tarver said.  Each of these charges also carries a fine of up to $250,000.    He stressed that “an indictment is only an accusation and is not evidence of guilt.  The defendants are entitled to a fair trial, during which it will be the Government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Statesboro FBI Special Agent Marcus Kirkland, IRS Special Agents Gwen Weston and Jason Dulin, and Statesboro Police Det. Sgt. James Winskey, assisted by their respective agencies’ colleagues, are conducting the investigation, he said.  The efforts were also aided by the United States Marshal’s Service, the Georgia State Patrol, the Georgia State Probation Office, the Claxton Police Department, the Swainsboro Police Department, and the Bulloch and Evans county sheriff’s offices.  Assistant United States Attorneys Lamont A. Belk and C. Troy Clark are prosecuting these cases on behalf of the United States, Tarver said.

 

Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.

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