The Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced Wednesday that they have apprehended over a dozen South Florida residents for alleged identity theft and falsified tax returns, a press release indicates. A U.S. Attorney also announced plans to indict an additional 40 residents on similar charges. More arrests may follow. Reports say a South Florida coalition comprised of FBI and IRS agents, Postal Service Inspectors, and area police have contributed to the arrests. The influx comes after an act, passed early this month, relaxed guidelines for making arrests in such cases.
Lineten Belizaire of Miami Gardens, Florida was one of the suspects arrested for the alleged identity theft, sources say. Coincidentally, 21-year-old Belizaire was arrested in August of this year for other charges: the murders of three Lauderdale Lakes residents. The victims were two women, ages 25 and 26, and a 6-month-old infant boy. Reports say that detectives found the three bodies with gunshot wounds within their Florida home. Investigators later picked up Belizaire and charged him with the murders, reports say. He has since pled not guilty and had bailed himself out of jail. However, he is back behind bars now because of the additional charges.
Tax fraud is an ever-growing problem in Florida communities, reports say. Data released by the IRS indicated that the U.S. Treasury dished out an excess of $5 billion to people who filed fraudulent tax return forms. Over a million of those forms took advantage of stolen identities to commit fraud, the report says. Florida’s hotspots for tax fraud include Tampa, where a purported 88,724 fraudulent returns were filed with a total refund of $468,382,079, and Miami, where fraudsters allegedly filed for 74,496 returns with a purported $280,509,449 in refunds.
Investigators say that fraudsters have found a way to use stolen identities to file falsified tax returns, get the refund check, and cash it before detectives have a chance to discover the fraud. The problem lies in the tax return process, reports say. Business employers do not usually submit W-2 income documents prior to the tax-return deadline of April 15. Instead, they are filed several months later, which does not give IRS investigators enough time to catch falsified income reports before sending out the refund checks.
In some cases, the pursuit of identity theft can turn lethal. Last month, Pikerson J. Mentor of Miami-Dade County was found guilty of murder after he was accused of a 2010 shooting of a U.S. Postal worker, reports say. Mentor, 30, reportedly shot the state worker so he could attain keys to apartment complex mailboxes. He allegedly wanted access to the mail so he could steal the identities of some of the complexes’ residents.
William Joseph, a former NFL player and current Miami resident, pled guilty to aggravated identity theft and theft of government money in similar trial earlier this year, reports indicate. Joseph, 32, reportedly confessed to cashing a tax-refund check worth over $10,000 under a stolen identity. Detectives arrested him as he attempted to cash the check at an undercover check-cashing store in Miami, reports say.