YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Two men caught by Bergen County Police with $25,000 in U.S. Treasury checks collected through an income-tax scam were among 14 people charged federally in connection with one of the nation’s largest, longest-running frauds of its kind.
Fishman said the fraud involved more than 8,000 bogus returns seeking $65 million in refunds.
One of the defendants in the scheme, 44-year-old Roberto Diaz of Demarest, “purportedly worked in the grocery business, resided in a house worth more than $1.6 million, and paid more than $13,000 per month in mortgage payments,” Fishman said.
Diaz also “gambled more than $250,000 at casinos in New Jersey and elsewhere… purchased three Mercedes-Benz automobiles …. [and] spent thousands of dollars a night on luxury hotels,” he said.
Another defendant, a school teacher, in one year charged $123,000 on a single credit card, including tens of thousands of dollars in hotel and airfare for luxury getaways.
BCPD Sgt. Rob Escobar was on patrol near the Palisades Park section of Overpeck County Park when he was flagged down Monday morning by an elderly male who reported “two suspicious males peering into parked vehicles in the Shop-Rite parking lot,” Lt. James Mullin said.
Escober spotted the pair sitting in a 2007 silver Chrysler 300.
Officer Salvatore LoCascio assisted Escobar after the men signed search consent forms for the sedan.
Inside, the officers found the three checks worth $24,700, Mullin said.
Edison Vergara, 41, of Weehawken and Porfirio Paredes, 44, of Hazelton, Pa., were transferred to the custody of federal agents.
Vergara and Parades were about to be picked up and charged federally, along with a dozen other people, with conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and with substantive counts of theft of government property, which resulted in $11.3 million in losses, when they were arrested in Palisades Park, authorities said.
All but one of the rest were arrested this morning as part of what Fishman said was a coordinated investigation by a New Jersey-based task force that includes IRS-Criminal Investigation and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
They also seized luxury autos and other items they said were bought with the ill-gotten gains.
The refund fraud “was highly organized and relied on many willing accomplices,” said Richard Weber, chief of IRS-Criminal Investigation.
In fact, the defendants include two other locals: Roberto Diaz, 44, of Demarest, and 73-year-old David Pinski of Fort Lee.
Federal court appearances were scheduled this afternoon in Newark, Grand Rapids, Mich., and Greensboro, N.C. Another defendant was already in custody in Texas on unrelated charges, Fishman said.
The ringleaders used various means to gain control of refund checks, sometimes bribing mail carriers to intercept checks or buying lists of the names of residents along particular mail routes, Fishman said.
“Hundreds of refund checks were mailed to just a few addresses in a few towns, including Nutley, Somerset and Newark…,” he said.
The leaders then got people to open bank accounts so the checks could be taken to cashing businesses and the proceeds deposited into the dummy accounts.
Identifying particular “hot spots,” the task force worked with the Postal Service to intercept more than $22 million in illicit refund checks.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Zach Intrater, Mala Ahuja Harker, Lakshmi Srinivasan Herman, and Danielle Walsman of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Division in Newark.
THE DEFENDANT LIST (COURTESY: U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman):
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