By Ken Berry
Law enforcement officers who were investigating drug dealers in Alaska turned up another illicit undertaking of a different sort: A fraudulent tax scheme that reportedly generated approximately $19 million in illegal federal income tax refunds.
According to U.S. Attorney for Alaska Karen Loeffler, the tax investigation eventually focused on eleven main conspirators, including seven illegal immigrants from Mexico and the Dominican Republic; three foreign residents living in the United States; and one American citizen, an employee of Wells Fargo Bank, who allegedly assisted the scammers.
A grand jury has announced that it has handed out a total of seventy-seven indictments. "It's a very large tax fraud case and what I would call organized crime," said Loeffler. "This is certainly the biggest (tax) case we've brought down in Alaska."
The charges stem from an incident in March 2011 when of the defendants, Nicolas Jimenez-Sanchez, sold an ounce of cocaine to an undercover Anchorage police officer. That led to subsequent purchases from other members of the drug ring. All told, authorities reported that undercover officers were sold fifty-four ounces of cocaine for $66,800. In January 2012, federal prosecutors charged four of the conspirators with selling cocaine.
This drug investigation soon snowballed into a multimillion dollar tax case. Neither Loeffler nor any of the other authorities would comment on how the tax scheme was discovered, but this much is known: To cash the checks or receive electronic deposits, the defendants had to obtain false identifications and set up bogus bank accounts. They allegedly used the information from their stolen identities to apply for the bank accounts, motor vehicle ID cards, and, on at least one occasion, a passport. The prosecutors say that the official at Wells Fargo, Hilda Josephine Hernandez McMullen, helped create bank accounts for the fake identities.
After the documents and bank accounts were secured, the defendants deposited the checks and made large cash withdrawals once the checks cleared. Then, the proceeds were often sent out of the country by wire transmissions, mailed packages, or bulk cash smuggling, according to the allegations.
Loeffler said the prosecutors will try to get the money back through forfeiture, if the eleven defendants are convicted. According to the indictment, prosecutors are seeking forfeiture of more than $130,000 in drug proceeds.