A Georgia couple have pleaded guilty to participating in a identity theft-related tax fraud scheme in which they used the Internal Revenue Service’s online ‘Get Transcript’ application to steal other taxpayers’ refunds.
Anthony Alika, 42, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and his wife Sonia Alika, 27, of Austell, Ga., pleaded guilty to one count of illegally structuring cash withdrawals to evade bank reporting requirements, the Justice Department said last Friday. They were charged in January with laundering the proceeds from a stolen identity refund fraud scheme.
The indictment alleged that Anthony Alika, along with Rapheal Atebefia, 33, of Austell, Ga., obtained means of identification of actual individuals, including their names and Social Security numbers, and used this information to access the IRS “Get Transcript” database.
Anthony Alika, Atebefia, and others allegedly got prepaid debit cards from stores located in multiple states, registered the cards in the names of the stolen identities, filed false income tax returns using the stolen identities and information obtained from the Get Transcript database, and directed the IRS to deposit the tax refunds onto these cards.
To hide their fraud, Anthony Alika, Atebefia and others allegedly used the prepaid debit cards to purchase money orders, which Anthony and Sonia Alika and Atebefia deposited into bank accounts and then structured cash withdrawals of the proceeds in order to prevent the bank from filing Currency Transaction Reports.
As part of his guilty plea, Anthony Alika admitted that during 2015 he received money orders from several individuals and deposited those money orders into bank accounts in his name or had his wife deposit them into bank accounts in her name. Anthony Alika would then structure out cash withdrawals from his bank accounts in amounts less than $10,000 to evade the bank reporting requirements.
Anthony Alika admitted that the funds used to purchase the money orders were the proceeds of illegal activity, including the filing of fraudulent tax returns using stolen identities. Sonia Alika admitted as part of her guilty plea that between February and June 2015, she withdrew more than $250,000 from multiple bank accounts she controlled in amounts less than $10,000 to prevent the bank from filing Currency Transaction Reports.
“With the number of stolen identity refund fraud victims increasing at an alarming rate, the Justice Department, working with the Internal Revenue Service and its other federal, state and local law enforcement partners, remains committed to investigating these abusive schemes and criminal networks, prosecuting these offenders, and seeking lengthy prison terms and monetary penalties,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Caroline D. Ciraolo of the Justice Department’s Tax Division in a statement. “The guilty pleas of Anthony Alika, Sonia Alika and Rapheal Atebefia in connection with their attempt to infiltrate and abuse the ‘Get Transcript’ database are yet another example of these continued efforts. The investigation and successful prosecution of these defendants sends a clear message to those individuals engaged in, or considering, this criminal conduct that the Department will bring all available resources to bear to hold them accountable.”
The IRS was forced to shut down the Get Transcript app last year after discovering that criminals had been able to use it to access the tax returns of hundreds of thousands of taxpayers (see IRS Finds ‘Get Transcript’ Data Breach Was More Widespread). The IRS has not fully restored the Get Transcript app since last year. To get a transcript of a prior-year return, a taxpayer or their tax practitioner needs to order it online and the IRS will send it by mail rather than allowing it to be accessed online.
“The IRS is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to pursue identity thieves, and we continue to make important progress in Georgia as well as elsewhere across the country,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “The IRS is also continuing to strengthen its operations and working with state revenue departments and the tax industry to provide further protections for taxpayers against identity theft.”
U.S. District Judge Thomas W. Thrash, Jr. set sentencing for July 27. Anthony Alika faces up to 20 years in prison and Sonia Alika faces up to 10 years in prison. They also face substantial monetary penalties, restitution and forfeiture. In March, Atebefia pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering for his role in this scheme. He is scheduled to be sentenced on June 22.