Juveniles' data used in tax fraud
TAMPA, Mar 22, 2013 (Tampa Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
His job was to supervise juveniles who had gotten in trouble with the law.
But authorities say Corey A. Coley Sr. used his job to victimize those juveniles and steal from federal taxpayers.
Coley, a probation officer for the state Department of Juvenile Justice, was arrested Thursday and charged with conspiring to defraud the federal government. Investigators said he worked with at least two other people who filed tax returns claiming more than $1.6 million in fraudulent tax refunds.
According to an IRS arrest affidavit, Coley used his access to Juvenile Justice databases to obtain personal information of juveniles who had been under supervision. That information was used by a conspirator to file tax returns in an effort to obtain fraudulent refunds.
Coley is the latest law enforcement officer accused of participating in the epidemic of tax fraud in the Tampa and Miami areas.
Earlier this month, two Miami police officers, Malinsky Bazile and Vital Frederick, were arrested and accused of stealing people's identities from Miami police databases and using the information to file fraudulent tax returns.
And in June, a former Ocala police officer was sentenced to more than six years in federal prison for using his access to a law enforcement database to help conspirators in a Tampa tax fraud scheme cash in Treasury checks. Dana Brown provided information that thieves used to create phony driver's licenses to cash checks.
"When you see that, it's always very sad," said U.S. Attorney Robert O'Neill. "It's really sad to see someone break ranks and do something like that."
O'Neill said "the lure of easy money" has drawn a lot of people to this crime and that this won't be the last time a person in a position of trust faces similar charges. "We expect several more cases with people with jobs, people who you would think are integral members of the community committing this crime."
Coley, who has been employed with the Department of Juvenile Justice since 2001 and earned an annual salary of $33,000, was fired Thursday after his arrest. Officials said he had no discipline problems in his personnel record.
The state official who oversees the department reacted strongly to the arrest. "From a personal perspective, I'm pretty angry about it and I'm very upset," said Wansley Walters, secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice.
According to the complaint affidavit, Coley, 36, of Gibsonton, found a way to access juveniles' personal information without being traced. The Department of Juvenile Justice maintains a database of current and former probationers but only recorded when someone accessed a specific probationer's full report. The system, though, did not record when someone logged in and conducted a search.
If a user conducted a search, according to the complaint, the search results showed the name, Social Security numbers and dates of birth of the individuals who matched the search terms. According to the complaint, that's how Coley was able to get personal information of probationers without being tracked.
Walters and DJJ spokeswoman Meghan Speakes said that process changed in January, and now initial search results contain only the last four numbers of the probationers' Social Security numbers. Any employees who try to get more information will be detected.
Walters said the department will evaluate its procedures as more details of the investigation become available.
According to the complaint, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office interviewed another conspirator, Mattie Philon, in September. Philon told a detective she filed fraudulent tax returns using identities provided by Coley and Albert E. Moore Jr.
Moore, of Tampa, who worked at Wal-Mart, was also arrested Thursday. Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Mosakowski said he could not comment on why Philon has not been charged because he can't discuss ongoing investigations.
U.S. Magistrate Thomas Wilson on Thursday granted a prosecution request that both Coley and Moore be released on $25,000 secured bond each.
Philon told the detective that in exchange for her completing fraudulent tax returns, Coley and Moore would allow her to keep some of the refunds, according to the complaint.
Between January and September 2012, more than 200 tax returns claiming more than $1.4 million in tax refunds were filed from Philon's home, according to the complaint. Returns claiming almost $250,000 were filed electronically from Moore's home, according to the complaint, and some of the proceeds of fraudulent refunds were deposited in Coley's credit union account.
Philon had a notebook with information from at least 90 people currently or formerly under DJJ supervision, the complaint states.
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