A $1.7 million identity theft fraud scheme has left five in federal prison, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced last week.
“The Justice Department is working closely with the [Internal Revenue Service] (IRS) to investigate and prosecute stolen identity refund fraud crimes,” said Assistant Attorney General Kathryn Keneally of DOJ’s Tax Division. “The sentences handed down in this and other cases show that identity thieves will pay a high price for their crimes.”
Beginning in April 2009, Najeh Widdi, Hanan Widdi, Hazem Woodi, Muuad Salem, Fahim Suleiman, Daxesj Patel and other individuals would file false and fraudulent tax returns, many in the names of taxpayers who were deceased, the indictment said. Co-conspirators in Ohio would receive the U.S. Treasury Checks from the fraudulent tax returns and then sell and distribute the Treasury checks to various businesses and banks.
The defendants previously entered guilty pleas in March. Salem, Woodi and Najeh Widdi pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to commit mail fraud and one count of mail fraud, DOJ said. Hanan Widdi pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to commit mail fraud and Suleiman pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to commit mail fraud, three counts of mail fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.
Ultimately, Suleiman was sentenced to 64 months in prison, with a mandatory minimum sentence of 24 months for aggravated identity theft. Salem was sentenced to 27 months in prison, while Najeh Widdi received 36 months, and Hanan Widdi and Hazem Woodi received 21-month and 18-month prison terms, respectively.
“Individuals who commit refund fraud and identity theft of this magnitude deserve to be punished to the fullest extent of the law,” said IRS Criminal Investigation Chief Richard Weber. “We, along with our law enforcement partners and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, continue to do our part in protecting the sanctity and integrity of the tax system and those individuals whose identities were stolen, as well as monetary loss against the U.S. Treasury.”
The investigation was led by IRS-Criminal Investigation, the U.S. Postal Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Cleveland Division.