The owner of a D.C. barbershop pleaded guilty to a $20 million identity theft and tax fraud scheme that stole personal information from nursing home patients, dead people and victims who were duped into believing they were getting "Obama Stimulus Money."
The massive scam involved more than 100 participants, including postal workers and bank tellers, who schemed to file more than 7,000 fake tax returns seeking to rip off $20 million over six years.
Prosecutors say the primary organizer and leader was 42-year-old Kevin Brown, of Capitol Heights, the owner of the Classic Kutz hair salon and barber shop in Southeast Washington.
Brown pleaded guilty late Friday to conspiracy to defraud the government, making false tax refund claims and identity theft. Brown faces a sentence of up to 14 years and a fine of up to $175,000, authorities said.
The case is one of the largest prosecutions involving the use of stolen identities, U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen said.
"One of the masterminds behind this criminal plot took responsibility for his role, but this investigation is not over," Machen said in a statement.
According to the government, the refunds were sought in the names of people whose identities had been stolen or who had been duped. At one nursing home alone, at least 14 identities were used, including five from people who were deceased at the time tax returns were filed in their names.
Some people sold their identifying information, while others victims unwittingly turned over their identifying information after being told that they were due an income tax refund or were entitled to "Obama Stimulus Money."
The false returns typically claimed that the "taxpayer" operated a business, claimed phony dependents, and then reported income that was sufficient to generate tax refunds based on the Earned Income Tax Credit, a refundable federal income tax credit for working families with low-to-moderate incomes.
The conspirators had a variety of roles. According to authorities, some stole the personal identities; some created and mailed the fraudulent federal tax returns; some helped cash the checks that rolled in; and some provided bank accounts.