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Justice Arrests Five For Tax Fraud Ring

An elaborate tax fraud ring spanning from the territory to three U.S. states was cut short Tuesday, as the V.I. Department of Justice hauled in five of the suspected perpetrators — and announced there would be more arrests coming.
"The more we dig, we find that the trail just gets longer and longer," Attorney General Vincent Frazer said at an afternoon press conference.
Arrested Tuesday were Tiffane C. Sutton (an employee at the V.I. Bureau of Internal Revenue); Kimberly Sutton (an Atlanta, Ga., resident who has been taken into custody by the sheriff’s office in Gwinnett County, Ga.); Colette Hackett-Browne (a former BIR employee); Errol Peterson (a V.I. Water and Power Authority employee); and Thierry Phillipi Serrant ( a Pennsylvania resident currently in federal custody on an unrelated charge).
Justice investigators are still on the lookout for a sixth suspect, Robert Latimore, for whom an arrest warrant has already been issued. A seventh individual has already been convicted in connection with the scheme, which Frazer said Justice has been following since 2007 with the help of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.
Fraudulent activities documented by investigators go back about three years and approximately $500,000, attorney Denise George-Counts, head of Justice’s White Collar Crimes division, explained at the briefing.
Charges against the six players named Tuesday, which range from preparing fraudulent returns to identity theft, are broken down in three different cases, which George-Counts said were either brought to the department’s attention by local citizens awaiting their tax returns, or employees within the local BIR who came across what she described as some "suspicious activity."
In the first case, Tiffane Sutton is accused of filing a fraudulent federal tax return in the name of a local woman for whom she had previously prepared a local tax return. When the IRS check came, Sutton allegedly deposited the money into a Georgia-based bank account.
George-Counts said two dependents — children of an innocent third-party — were also claimed on the fraudulent form.
The second case was brought to investigators’ attention by local taxpayer Frank Gangi, who claimed to have not received his tax return check, which George-Counts said Tiffane Sutton said she mailed after getting it from the Finance Department. Conversations with Serrant, one of the six suspected players in the case who is cooperating with the government, revealed Tiffane Sutton had instead sent the check to her sister, Kimberly Sutton, who in turn mailed it to Serrant to cash.
Serrant allegedly opened a joint bank account, bearing his and Gangi’s name. Surveillance camera footage shows Latimore accompanying Serrant to the bank, where he presents himself as Gangi and uses forged identification documents to make the deposit, George-Counts said.
Fortunately, investigators were able to get to the money — some nearly $194,000 — before either Serrant or Latimore could withdraw the cash, she added.
Meanwhile, the investigation turned up at least four other instances in which checks issued to taxpayers were allegedly pilfered by Sutton, George-Counts said.
The third case pulls in Peterson and Hackett-Brown, who George-Counts said allegedly stole the identities of seven local residents, most living in the streets or homeless, and used them to generate false return checks that were then mailed to two P.O. boxes under Peterson’s name.
Hacket-Browne, then a local BIR employee, would prepare the documents, while Peterson would get the checks signed by the same people whose identity had been stolen in exchange for a cut of the money, George-Counts said.
"The people we interviewed indicated they had not earned the money, which they said was part of a plan or scheme proposed to them by Peterson," she said, adding that the evidence shows some of the checks were deposited into Tiffane Sutton’s account.
At this point, local BIR head Claudette Watson-Anderson said her agency is constantly looking to protect the territory’s money from being sucked up in similar schemes and mentioned the possibility of hiring an internal investigator that could keep tabs on the employees. In light of current funding shortfalls, however, it is not yet clear whether such a person will be hired.
Meanwhile, Watson-Anderson said that Hackett-Browne had been fired from the agency, while Tiffane Sutton’s status as a unionized employee protects her from being fired or suspended — either with or without pay — until she goes through the locally mandated procedures laid out in the collective bargaining process.
At the time of her arrest, bail for Tiffane Sutton was set at $50,000, while the other suspects’ bails were set at $100,000, according to information provided by Justice. Based on the various charges, sentencing guidelines range from a minimum of two years to a maximum of 15 years in prison, along with thousands more in potential fines.

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