“Federal agents swept through South Florida this week to arrest about 40 people charged with the viral-spreading crimes of identity theft and tax-refund fraud.
U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said the takedown was the biggest yet since his office established a strike force to target the companion scams in August 2012.
“This continues to be the fastest-growing and most-pervasive fraud scheme aimed at stealing our tax dollars,” Ferrer told the Miami Herald Thursday. “But we’re on it. We want to send a message before the tax season begins because it’s fast approaching.”
Among the line-up of defendants appearing in Miami federal court: A West Miami-Dade man who had been severely beaten while in the custody of Sweetwater police a decade ago and later received a $2 million settlement from the city.
Now Peter Michael Daniel, 29, is penniless.
The one-time operator of a personal-watercraft rental business said he has no income and no assets, so a magistrate judge assigned a federal public defender to represent him.
“What happened to all the money?” his father, Roberto Daniel, said outside the courtroom. “I don’t know. He was very young when he got the money. He just went through it. He has nothing.”
Daniel pleaded not guilty to a charge of possessing at least 15 Social Security numbers belonging to others. Those numbers are typically used or sold for filing phony tax returns, though Daniel was not charged with defrauding the Internal Revenue Service.”
Goofing off on the computer landed a Chapel High School student in jail after he allegedly completed an online application for a credit card using the social security number of a high-ranking White House official.
James Townsend was charged with identity fraud for allegedly completing the application for a Discover credit card issued to “a senior level executive branch official under the protection of the United States Secret Service,” according to the warrant Douglas County Magistrate Court Judge Susan Camp read in court Wednesday. The White House, the Secret Service, the United States Attorney’s Office or local authorities would not confirm the name of the person whose social security number was used.
“The investigation was turned over to us from the United States Secret Service,” Douglas County Sheriff’s Inv. Josh Skinner said. “It was determined that an individual using the name of Austin Townsend had filed a credit app with Discover credit card using a social security number that didn’t belong to Mr. Townsend. The subsequent investigation led to Mr. Townsend’s address on Yancey Road where we met with his parents.”
The parents reportedly agreed to allow officers speak with Townsend, search the residence and copy files from the computer.
“The parents and Mr. Townsend have been completely forthright in the investigation and cooperated in every way,” Skinner said.
He told the judge the family requested a cash bond in the amount of $500.
“How do you think it’s OK for you to do this,” Camp said. “Were you just thinking up numbers or what?”
“I was just goofing off,” Townsend said. “I wasn’t really trying to do anything.”
He also told the judge he was in the 11th grade at Chapel Hill High. Camp told him what he did was no different than stealing and that authorities can track down who is responsible.
“As you see, you messed with the wrong person there on that one,” she said.
Camp thought setting a $500 cash bond was too low. But she granted the father’s request for a $1,000 cash bond. She also made sure Townsend understood on the seriousness of his crime.
“You’re the one that choose the direction of your life and you don’t need to be messing around on that computer doing stuff like that because they’ll catch you every time,” she said.
Camp also told Townsend he could serve five years if convicted of identity fraud.