AUSTIN — Two men and a woman from Killeen pleaded guilty to involvement in an identity theft and tax fraud scheme that resulted in more than $1.3 million in false tax claims.
Albert Powell, Ronnie Cole and Paris Stephens all pleaded guilty to charges of identity theft, conspiracy and tax fraud in connection with the scheme, which officials said resulted in the IRS paying more than $490,000 in fraudulent refunds between 2010 and 2012.
Federal investigators said the three used victims’ personal information to file false tax returns electronically, and kept the resulting tax refund checks. Much of the information they used came from job applications at Wendy’s restaurant locations in Chicago and Killeen.
According to court documents, investigators seized “hundreds” of original employment applications and W-4 forms from Powell and Cole’s residence. The majority of the employment applications and W-4 forms appeared to have been taken from Wendy’s locations in Chicago and were dated 2006 or 2007, but some were taken from the Killeen Wendy’s, which were dated 2012.
Prosecutors said the three used personal information from the applications to fraudulently claim wages, dependents, deductions and tax credits on tax returns filed electronically through Turbo Tax. The refunds were sent to numerous addresses in Killeen, including to the homes of associates who allowed the three to use their addresses in exchange for a cut of the refund.
A search by federal authorities conducted March 8, 2013, at an address associated with Cole and Stephens netted a trove of evidence, including computers, laptops and index cards with handwritten notes listing names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers.
Powell pleaded guilty Friday in an Austin courtroom. Stephens and Cole entered their guilty pleas Thursday. They could face up to 25 years in prison.
Sentencing hearings for all three are expected to be scheduled next week.