Giant ID Theft Ring Broken Up
SAN DIEGO (CN) - Federal prosecutors accuse 55 people of stealing 2,000 identities to demand $20 million in bogus IRS refunds, and receiving $7 million from it.
Twenty-two defendants were arrested Thursday in Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas and Maryland, federal prosecutors said in announcing the four indictments.
Thirty-three defendants are at large, 21 of whom are believed to be out of the country.
The scam "involved the participation of scores of San Diego-based foreign nationals from former Soviet bloc countries - including Russia, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan - who were visiting San Diego using J-1 and F-1 visas," the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a statement.
The visas are issued for study, work and travel.
"However, instead of studying or working, the almost two dozen foreign nationals charged today allegedly worked primarily as foot soldiers for criminal organizations operating in Los Angeles and elsewhere," prosecutors said in the statement. "Leaders of the identity theft ring, many of whom are Armenian nationals or Armenian-American, exploited the popular student visa program in part because the visa holders would not be here long. In fact, many have since returned to their countries."
The leaders of the scam were Arthur Grigorian, Ernest Soloian and Hovhannes Harutyunyan, according to the U.S. attorney. Defendants Yvonne Mihailescu is accused of using her job at Wells Fargo Bank to open accounts to receive the fraudulent tax refunds and launder the money.