“[T]his is the most insanely massive violation of the law that I’ve seen”

That’s Tampa Chief of Police Jane Castor talking about income tax fraud in the Tampa Bay area.

We have a great police force in Tampa.  When Chief Castor says the problem is uncontrollable, Congress needs to listen.  From the Tampa Tribune:

Tampa’s tax refund fraud is getting national attention this week as a city police detective is set to testify before a U.S. Senate subcommittee about what the police chief says “conservatively” amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money being stolen in the Tampa Bay area alone. . .

Based on what he’s seeing in the streets, [Officer Edwin] Perez said, the fraud is “ten times as bad this year” as it was last year.

“Out in the street, everybody is doing it,” said Chief Jane Castor. “We’re hearing stories about high school kids doing this. It’s just incredible.”

Perez said he’s found a 16-year-old on his way to school with a list of names, dates of birth and other identifying information for use in tax fraud and a 76-year-old man with a laptop computer case stuffed with debit cards pre-loaded with money suspected to have been obtained through tax fraud.

Because of the scope of the fraud, Perez said, he was nervous when he filed his tax return. “I knew right away I had to file as quick as I could,” Perez said, and he did. But he wasn’t able to act fast enough to beat the crooks.

“I’ve been in law enforcement for 28 years,” Castor told reporters, “and this is the most insanely massive violation of the law that I’ve seen.”

I don’t write about white collar crime very often, but Tampa is the epicenter of a lot of low-level, high-yield financial fraud.  Medicaid fraud is endemic.  Fake pill clinics, fake back-pain doctors, and other fake medical services seem to fill every other storefront.  Auto insurance is expensive here because of faked hit-and-run fraud.

And the feds aren’t doing enough.  Why?  The Secret Service is partnering with local police; the Postal Service is on the case, but prosecutions aren’t happening.  Hundreds of millions of dollars are being stolen in my community because leaders in Washington can’t get their act together and focus on crime.  I don’t think I need to articulate my feelings about this as I sit down to do my family’s taxes:

[Chief Castor] said criminals are getting the information they need to commit fraud by paying people who work in businesses where personal information is kept, including medical offices, schools and assisted living facilities. Perez [a victim himself] said his best guess is that someone got his wife’s information from a medical office.

Castor said the fraud is too extensive for local police to manage. “It’s no-win situation,” she said. “We could put our entire police force on this now, and we’re not going to keep up.”

Perez said, as a street cop, he constantly sees the fraud – known in street parlance as “TurboTax,” after the popular online filing program. “In one of every seven stops that we make, we’re going to find something that has to do with TurboTax,” he said.

Castor said the media coverage has gotten the attention of lawmakers and IRS officials in Washington. Three IRS officials flew down to Tampa last week and met with the chief.

Castor said the IRS seems to understand the problem and says it’s putting additional filters in place to block fraudulent refund checks from being sent. But Castor reiterated that the existing filters don’t seem to be working.

For example, the IRS says it screens for multiple refund checks being sent to the same address. But in one case, Castor said, police documented more than 200 refunds being sent to a single address.

“They have made some changes, but the insurmountable hurdle still is in place,” Castor said. “They still cannot share information with law enforcement. That needs to be fixed. … But I don’t want anyone to lose sight of the real problem here. It starts at the filing. It has got to be fixed.”

Today, the U.S. Senate Finance Subcommittee on Fiscal Responsibility, chaired by Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, will hold its second hearing on tax fraud. This one is slated to include testimony from Tampa police Detective Sal Augeri, who has led the department’s tax fraud investigations.

The committee is considering legislation introduced by Nelson last year that the senator says will help victims get their money more quickly when their refunds are stolen.

Senator Nelson needs to do more than this.  Of course the victims need to be reimbursed.  But why isn’t the Justice Department down here fixing the problem?  Oh yeah, they’re busy . . .

From the DOJ Homepage: The Affordable Care Act was enacted on March 23, 2010 . . . This law has become the subject of several lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the provision requiring Americans who can afford it to maintain basic health insurance coverage. The Department is vigorously defending the law in these cases.

Defending the Affordable Care Act
You know what would make healthcare more affordable?  Prosecuting Medicaid and Medicare fraud.  Prosecuting tax fraud.  Prosecuting crime, instead of punishing the law-abiding by not punishing crime, which breeds contempt for the law, which leads to 16-year olds stealing people’s IDs and getting other people’s tax refunds, then getting a slap on the wrist in juvenile court.  But story gets much, much worse.  From the Tampa Bay Times:

Tax fraud thief steals identity of slain Tampa police officer

TAMPA — Months after police Officer David Curtis was slain on duty, his widow tried to file her tax return. But the electronic filing wouldn’t go through.

Someone had stolen the identity of the officer and filed a fraudulent return.

A year later, Kelly Curtis still has no resolution. On Tuesday, her ordeal was a subject of a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing on the pervasive tax fraud problem.

“It’s just so frustrating,” she told theTampa Bay Times. “Here Dave’s ultimate sacrifice is being taken advantage of again.

“And I’ve just been thrown something else on my plate that I’ve got to deal with. Sometimes I just throw my hands up in the air and say: ‘No, I’ve had enough. I can’t deal with this.’ ”

David Curtis and fellow Officer Jeffrey Kocab were fatally shot June 29, 2010, during a traffic stop in East Tampa.

The Tampa Police report that they arrested 47 tax fraud suspects but could not prosecute a single one of them for tax fraud, because the IRS cannot share information with the police.  So the rest of us have a choice: we can demand a change in these laws, or we can keep hemorrhaging money to criminals.  And make no mistake about it, one type of criminality breeds other types:

Tax fraud is leading to violent crime in Tampa . . . People are getting rich off these schemes, he said, and other people know it. There have been armed robberies and home invasions targeted at these fraudulent filers, police say.  An attempted homicide last week in Tampa is rumored to be motivated by tax fraud, [Tampa Detective Sal] Augeri testified.  Tampa police Chief Jane Castor told the Times robbers are looking for cash and jewelry — “the proceeds of the tax fraud.”  “People on the street know who’s doing it,” she said. “And they want to get a share.”

This should bother you as you pay your taxes this year.  A lot.  Meanwhile, at least it’s an object lesson in the connection between white collar crime and street crime, and an object lesson for all those who whine that our federal prisons are filled with otherwise innocent drug users.  They aren’t.  They pled down from other crimes:

On Monday afternoon, a federal judge in Tampa sentenced one tax fraud participant to more than 15 years in federal prison. Perhaps underscoring how difficult it can be to bring tax fraud charges, the defendant was not charged with or convicted of tax fraud.

Tarrantzton Barr pleaded guilty to conspiring to possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine.

Barr admitted that he and his cousin, Patrick Shaw, used nearly $40,000 worth of fraudulently obtained Treasury checks to try to buy the kilo from an informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration in May. Shaw has also pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentence.

Where is the leadership in federal law enforcement?

Maybe if we changed the name of the offense from “tax fraud” to “bullying,” somebody in the White House would do something.

 

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