2 sentenced over tax scheme involving dead people

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

Two Detroit women were sentenced Tuesday in a scheme to use the identities of dead people to file false tax returns and collect more than $1.8 million in refunds.

Brenda Knight was sentenced to two years in prison and Adreann Turnage was given 18 months, officials announced Wednesday in a Department of Justice press release.

The defendants used stolen names and Social Security numbers of recently deceased individuals to electronically file more than 700 fraudulent 2010 income tax returns, officials said. They falsely claimed the Earned Income Credit, Education Credits and the Making American Work Credit to collect more than $1.8 million in returns.

The illicit returns were deposited into multiple bank accounts, many controlled by Knight’s husband, Willie Watkins, who was sentenced April 29, 2014, to 30 months in prison for his role in the scheme. He also was ordered to pay $410,949 in restitution, officials said.

“Using the identities of deceased individuals to commit crimes for financial gain is particularly egregious,” said Jarod Koopman, IRS acting special agent in charge. “Identity theft is a top priority for the IRS-Criminal Investigation, and we will continue to detect and investigate these types of cases in order to protect taxpayers from being victimized.”

Officials said the defendants filed the fraudulent returns using public access Internet connections at various locations, including Starbucks and Red Roof Inns. A Comcast account registered to Turnage was used to transmit 46 of the returns.

“The Tax Division has zero tolerance for stealing the identities of the deceased and other vulnerable members of our communities,” acting Assistant Attorney General Caroline Ciraolo said. “The individuals perpetrating these egregious tax crimes will be identified, their criminal operations will be dismantled and they will be prosecuted and punished to the fullest extent of the law.”

HFournier@detroitnews.com

(313) 223-4616

@HollyPFournier