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8th USVI Woman Pleads Guilty In All-Female, Multi-Level Tax Fraud Scheme

CHRISTIANSTED — An eighth woman has pleaded guilty in an all-female, multi-level tax fraud scheme hatched in the territory, authorities said.

Joanne Benjamin, 41, from the Virgin Islands pled guilty in federal court on March 11, 2021 to conspiracy to defraud the United States, U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert said today.

According to the plea agreement filed with the court, from January 2011 to July 2012, Joanne Benjamin and others participated in a scheme to steal money from the United States treasury by fraudulently obtaining federal income tax refunds.

The scheme involved the acquisition of personal identifying information of individuals (i.e. name, social security number, and date of birth) used to electronically file falsified tax returns with a designation of refunds to the acquired bank accounts or debit cards.

Benjamin and her co-conspirators withdrew the deposited refunds, spent them using a debit card or transferred them to other accounts, all for personal use.

As a result of the scheme, approximately $110,896 of falsely-claimed returns was designated for deposit into Benjamin’s bank account, of which approximately $80,425 was actually deposited therein.

Of ten defendants charged in the tax fraud scheme, Benjamin is the eighth woman to plead guilty.

Seven others have entered guilty pleas, three of whom have been sentenced in federal court by District Court Chief Judge Wilma Lewis.

The remaining two defendants are scheduled for trial on June 7, 2021.

A sentencing date for Benjamin is scheduled for July 14, 2021

She faces a maximum sentence of ten years, up to a $250,000.00 fine, and the payment of restitution.

The prosecution of this fraud scheme is the result of years of investigative work by the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations, which identified and dismantled a massive stolen identity refund fraud scheme perpetrated in the Virgin Islands and elsewhere.

The case was investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigations.

It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa Ortiz.

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