A Miami man who allegedly rented a storage unit under a false identity from West End Self Storage in Richmond, Va., is the lone suspect in a scam designed to defraud the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Ramoth Jean, 33, was arraigned in U.S. District Court in Richmond last week and is charged with five counts of mail fraud, conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, access device fraud, and aggravated identity theft. He has pleaded not guilty.
According to court documents, a group allegedly obtained personal-identification information from people who believed they were applying for jobs advertised online through sites like CareerBuilder.com and Snagajob.com. Using applicants’ information, the group filed phony tax returns via online tax services, such as TurboTax, that allow refunds to be sent as prepaid debit cards, investigators said. As of May, an initial investigation uncovered at least 133 suspected fake returns were filed in 2010 and 2011, seeking more than $700,000 in refunds.
The debit cards were sent to mailboxes in the Richmond area and quickly cashed in at ATMs. On Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael C. Moore told U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson that the ongoing investigation has revealed a minimum of 700 fraudulent tax returns.
Investigators became aware of the case only after Jean allegedly rented a storage unit and then failed to keep up with payments. Management at West End Self Storage alerted Henrico County police that someone was using identity theft to rent a unit. Police arrested Jean on Aug. 25, 2012, when they encountered him and a woman at the self-storage facility.
During a search of the suspect at the scene, police found a debit card with a different person’s name on it in his left shoe. Jean told investigators it belonged to his cousin. Police arrested Jean and seized a cardboard box the couple had removed from the unit. Jean was later released when investigators could not prove the debit card was stolen and a magistrate did not find probable cause to issue a warrant for credit card theft, according to the source.
Police were able to secure a warrant for the cardboard box, which contained tax documents and mail from the IRS and TurboTax to addresses in the Richmond area. It also included two laptop computers, a USB flash drive, CDs, prepaid debit cards and index cards with identity information for about 800 people in several states.
A subsequent warrant and search of the computers determined Jean had accessed them with the intent to steal identities for the purpose of filing electronic tax returns, according to court documents. After grand jury subpoenas were served using a sample of the debit cards, authorities found some of them were funded with income tax returns, according to the source.
Investigators do not have any other suspects in the case. A four-day jury trial for Jean is scheduled to begin on Sept. 30.