Updated:LINCOLNTON, N.C.,None - Five people, four from Lincolnton and one from Vale, have pleaded guilty in a fraudulent tax refund scheme investigated by the Internal Revenue Service.
Two more people have been indicted in the same scheme to defraud the U.S. Treasury Department and remain fugitives of the law, according to a release by U.S. Attorney Anne M. Tompkins.
As of Wednesday, the following people had pleaded guilty to one count of false claims conspiracy: Dania Ramos, 35, of Lincolnton; Jose de Jesus, aka Jose Ramos, 28, of Vale; Xiomara Amparo, 33, of Lincolnton; Mildred DePena, 48, of Lincolnton; and Nelson Jimenez, 51, of Lincolnton.
Those indicted but still at large are Arileyda Amparo, 31, of Lincolnton and Johan Vargas, 23, of Hickory, according to the release.
According to the indictment, the seven defendants sought fraudulent tax refunds totaling more than $3 million in 2010 and more than $2 million from January 2011 until mid-February.
They are accused of using stolen identity information – including names and Social Security numbers – from people in Puerto Rico to prepare fraudulent tax returns.
"Based on information contained in court filings and court records, the defendants carefully selected addresses within the Western District of North Carolina at locations where there were multiple mailboxes clustered, and then caused the Treasury Department to mail the false tax refund checks to these specifically-chosen addresses," said U.S. Attorney Tompkins in the news release.
The defendants are also accused of using the Internet to check the delivery dates of the fraudulent refund checks and pulling them out of the mail at the chosen addresses.
After the defendants pulled the tax refund checks from the mailboxes, they cashed them at money service businesses in North Carolina and elsewhere and used the money for themselves, according to the release.
The case was investigated by the IRS with help from the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Postal Service.
Ramos, DePena, Jimenez and Xiomara Amparo have been released on bonds. Jose de Jesus has been in custody since February, according to the release.
Sentencing dates for the five defendants whom have pleaded guilty have not been set. Each faces a maximum of up to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both.