An East Lake man is accused of bilking $1.3 million from the federal government by filing at least 173 fraudulent income tax returns, according to a criminal complaint obtained by East Lake Patch.
Federal agents arrested Carlos Oscar Johnson, 23, on Friday morning on one count of theft of government property and one count of aggravated identity theft. Agents also executed search and seizure warrants at Johnson's home at the Hampton's Apartments, where they confiscated items that included three large flat-screen TVs and a Cadillac, according to IRS Special Agent Casmir P. Tyska.
The investigation began in July of 2011 when Clearwater Police stopped Johnson for a parking violation. Johnson gave officers permission to look inside his wallet, where they found five pre-paid debit cards, according to the criminal complaint.
Investigators discovered that the debit cards had been loaded with tax refunds that were obtained fraudulently using the names of five different people. All cards were linked to the same address in a Clearwater subsidized housing community.
"Initially we began with a credit card fraud investigation, and through the course of that investigation we determined that the problem was a lot larger. There were fraudulent tax returns that were involved, so at that point, we contacted the IRS," said Elizabeth Watts, Clearwater Public Safety Spokesperson.
Investigators found that Johnson had filed fake tax returns from his home and at a hotel using online tax preparation software.
"To use these tax preparation sites, it is only necessary to have a name, a matching social security number, and a date of birth to complete a return," said IRS Special Agent Donald Williams in the criminal complaint.
Johnson allegedly had the tax refund money loaded onto debit cards or deposited electronically at numerous banks.
Investigators say on one occasion, Johnson and Makaeia Demps stayed at the Chase Suites Hotel in Rocky Point, where Johnson filed at least nine fraudulent income tax returns with refunds totaling $60,000. The criminal complaint lists Demps as a co-conspirator; however, authorities have not said if charges have been filed against her.
Johnson used proceeds from the tax refunds to pay for airfare and a hotel in Las Vegas, a hotel stay in Clearwater, and a jet ski rental, according investigators.
After Johnson was arrested, IRS agents and Clearwater Police remained at his home Friday collecting evidence for the investigation.
"The partnership between the police department and the internal revenue service basically led to what's happened here today. Without that partnership and without us working side by side, we may not be here," said Watts.
As for Johnson's tax returns, IRS records show he earned $14,060 in 2010. In 2011 he earned $456 from Medinvest Company, which owns Sabal Palms Care Center in Largo, where Johnson held his most recent job as a certified nursing assistant from March 2008 to February of 2011.
Johnson was scheduled to appear at a bond hearing in federal court in Tampa on Friday afternoon. Tyska says more charges could be filed against Johnson.