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St. Croix Woman Gets 2 Years In Prison For Her Role In 10-Woman Tax Fraud Scheme

CHRISTIANSTED — One of ten women who participated in a tax fraud scheme that stole Virgin Islanders’ tax refunds got two years in prison from a federal judge.

Joanne Benjamin, 41, of St. Croix, was sentenced on Thursday by U.S. District Court Judge Wilma Lewis to twenty-four months incarceration followed by three years of supervised release for her part in a multi-defendant tax fraud scheme U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert said today. Benjamin pled guilty on March 11, 2021 to conspiracy to defraud the United States.


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 Defendant’s bank account, of which approximately $80,424.83 was actually deposited therein. The Court also ordered Benjamin to pay restitution of $80,424.83 to the Internal Revenue Service, and her $1000 posted bail bond will be applied toward restitution and a $100 special assessment fee, upon motion of the United States.


Of ten defendants charged in the tax fraud scheme, Benjamin is one of nine to plead guilty.

The tenth defendant, Jacinta Gussie, was found guilty in June of 2021 after a six-day trial of Conspiracy to Defraud the United States, four counts of Theft of Government Money, and two counts of Aggravated Identity Theft.

Gussie’s sentencing date is pending.

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, and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa Ortiz.

By John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.