Law enforcement agents raided a house Wednesday and got a big break in their effort to stop a tax fraud epidemic, arresting people they say have been pioneers in creating and executing tax return fraud on a massive scale in the Tampa Bay area.
The house is in the 10000 block of Dunscore Cottage Way in Wimauma. It's where authorities say they found a woman known on the street as the "first lady of tax fraud." She is 26-year-old Rashia Wilson, and investigators say she is considered an organizer and recruiter in many of the tax refund schemes that have cost taxpayers millions over the past couple of years.
Wilson's arrest is part of a much larger crackdown on tax fraud that law enforcement has had a hard time stopping. They've blame the IRS and privacy laws that they say put up a wall between the crooks and the police who are trying to find them.
Authorities say Wilson and two others are at the center of all the fraud. The other two are Maurice Larry, and Marterrance Holloway, who are charged with conspiring to defraud the United States, wire fraud, and ID theft, and for using Turbo Tax to steal other people's tax returns. Wilson is currently charged with weapons violations, but other charges relating to tax fraud are expected.
According to investigators, Wilson, Larry, and Holloway were at a motel in 2010 in a drug sting that set the whole investigation off. Authorities went there on a drug bust and ended up uncovering $130 million in ID theft and tax fraud. That was "Operation Rainmaker," as it is now infamously known. Since then, Tampa police have been investigating and gathering evidence on the three main suspects, along with several others, and that's where today's raid comes in.
Authorities swarmed the house on Dunscore Cottage Way in Wimauma, seizing three luxury cars, TVs, and several boxes of evidence. Members of the U.S. Postal Inspector's Office were there too, because it is through the mail that the criminals are receiving their fraudulent tax returns.
According to a report out just last month by the IRS Inspector General, Tampa is the worst in the nation for tax refund fraud. But police say today's indictments, and the arrests of the three main suspects, are the beginning of the end:
"We believe that they are the ones that organized and recruited, they were the pioneers that actually set in the process everyone who is involved in this phenomenon. The vast majority of the people we've interviewed have been linked back to them one way or another," said Major Ken Morman with the Tampa Police Department.
In today's round-up, law enforcement arrested seven people, including the three "pioneers." Warrants have been issued for eight more suspects. Police say they're finally able to get these suspects because the IRS has agreed to ease up those privacy restrictions for law enforcement officials in Tampa specifically, because tax refund fraud is such an epidemic here.
The feds are taking bigger steps now to deal with these tax fraud refund cases. Starting next month, local federal prosecutors will no longer have to wait for approval from Washington before they prosecute people for fraud. U.S. Attorney Bobby O'Neill says the Department of Justice authorization comes in a new directive.
"All of us together have sort of said we need to address this issue. You know, crime changes and things change, and with the computer age the type of criminal activity we're seeing is changing, and so we have to change with it," O'Neill said.
O'Neill has been working for some time to encourage his bosses in Washington to speed up and streamline prosecutions, because Tampa has become such a hot bed of fraud, and it appears to have finally paid off.
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