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Nine indicted in $20 million identity theft ring that targeted soldiers

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COLUMBUS, Ga. - Nine people from across the Chattahoochee River valley have been indicted in connection with a $20 million identity theft ring that targeted soldiers and others in the Fort Benning and Columbus area, the Department of Justice announced Thursday. The nine includes Tracey Mitchell of Phenix City - who WRBL News 3 reported in February was stealing identities through her employment at Martin Army Hospital.

The unsealed indictment accuses the nine of claiming more than $20 million in fraudulent tax return claims between January 2011 and December 2013. Over 7,000 false tax returns were filed during the large-scale operation, according to the Department of Justice.

Those indicted are:
-Tracy Mitchell, of Phenix City, Alabama
-Dameisha Mitchell, of Phenix City, Alabama
-Latasha Mitchell, of Phenix City, Alabama
-Keisha Lanier, of Seale, Alabama
-Sharondra Johnson, of Phenix City, Alabama
-Cynthia Johnson, of Phenix City, Alabama
-Mequetta Snell-Quick, of Phenix City, Alabama
-Talarious Paige, of Phenix City, Alabama
-Patrice Taylor, of Midland, Georgia

As a hospital employee, Mitchell had access to the identification data of military personnel, including soldiers who were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Tracy Mitchell and her daughter, Latasha Mitchell, also obtained stolen identities from an Alabama state agency, which was not publicly named.

Keisha Lanier is accused of obtaining stolen identities from the Alabama Department of Corrections.

Talarious Paige and Patrice Taylor worked in a call center for a Columbus, Georgia company and stole identities. Paige, in turn, is accused of selling those identities and they were used by Tracy Mitchell, Keisha Lanier, and others to file false tax returns.

In order to file tax returns, according to the superseding indictment, the defendants obtained several Electronic Filing Numbers in the names of sham tax businesses. On behalf of those sham tax businesses, the defendants applied for bank products from various financial institutions, which mailed blank check stock to the defendants’ homes. Tracy Mitchell, Latasha Mitchell, Keisha Lanier, Mequetta Snell-Quick, and others used the sham tax businesses and stolen identities to file false tax returns.

Furthermore, according to the superseding indictment, the defendants directed anticipated tax refunds to prepaid debit cards, to U.S. Treasury Checks, and to financial institutions - which in turn issued the refunds via checks or prepaid debit cards. As to the refunds sent through the financial institutions, the defendants simply printed out the refund checks from the check stock sent to them. Regarding the U.S. Treasury Checks, the defendants directed those checks to be mailed to several addresses in Alabama and then obtained them from the mail.

To coordinate the cashing of the refund checks, the defendants sent various text messages between themselves, the Department of Justice says. The defendants cashed the fraudulent checks at several businesses located in Alabama, Georgia, and Kentucky. In addition to the conspiracy charge, the defendants are also charged with mail and wire fraud, access device fraud, and aggravated identity theft.

“To steal the identity of a soldier serving his/her country is the lowest form of thievery,” stated U.S. Attorney Beck. “If a soldier serving his country is not safe from identity theft, then none of us are safe from this crime. We will continue our efforts to stamp out this crime. Identity theft affects too many people in our communities and we must use all available resources under the law to destroy it. I want to commend the IRS Criminal Investigations Unit and the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command for their dedication to destroying this criminal organization.”

“The problem with identity theft is that the victims don’t know they have been subjected to the crime until well after the fact,” said U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, Michael Moore. “The prosecution of this case resulted from the great work of the U.S. Attorney in Montgomery and the Tax Division. I hope it sends a message to both our soldiers and to those who try to take advantage of them – while you are protecting us from bad guys abroad, we will be protecting you from the bad guys at home.”

If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum potential sentence of 10 years in prison for the conspiracy charge, a maximum potential sentence of 20 years in prison for each wire and mail fraud count, a maximum potential sentence of 15 years in prison for each access device fraud count, and a mandatory two-year sentence for each aggravated identity theft count. The defendants are also subject to fines, forfeiture, and mandatory restitution if convicted.

The case was investigated by special agents of the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation and the Computer Crimes Investigative Unit of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command. Trial Attorney Michael Boteler of the Department's Tax Division and Assistant United States Attorney Todd Brown of Alabama are prosecuting the case. The United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia provided assistance in this matter.


James Brierton

James joined WRBL News 3 with experience from CNN, NBC News and his own hyper-local news site. He manages the WRBL News 3 Web desk. More>>

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