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Ridgewood postal carrier nabbed by feds in multi-million-dollar refund check scheme

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A Ridgewood postal carrier was among seven people charged by federal authorities this morning with a multi-million dollar scheme to collect bogus tax refunds from the government.

Lourdes Ortiz, 40, surrendered to U.S. Postal Inspection Service investigators this morning and is due to be brought before a federal court judge in Newark this afternoon, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said.

Four others who also were grabbed by federal authorities also have initial appearances scheduled. Two more, both from the Bronx, remained at large this morning, Fishman said. All are charged, pending federal grand jury action, with one count of conspiring to steal U.S. Treasury checks.

According to Fishman, the crew pulled off a scheme from December 2011 through last month in which they directed fraudulently obtained U.S. Treasury checks to addresses along a mail route they controlled, using Ortiz and 39-year-old Gloria Rivera of the Bronx.

Once the checks were intercepted, “they were passed along to others and deposited into bank accounts controlled by the conspirators,” he said. “The resulting proceeds were quickly withdrawn from the bank accounts and used for various personal expenses, including gambling in Atlantic City casinos.”

Ortiz and Rivera took bribes to scoop up the checks along their mail routes in Queens, Fishman said.

Rivera then turned them over to Luis Pena, 43, of Yonkers, who was arrested last night by postal inspectors, he said. She collected $400 per check, Fishman said.

The money was deposited into straw bank accounts controlled by a group of men – identified as 30-year-old Wellington Feliz and 38-year-old Isaias Hernandez, both of the Bronx, who Fishman said remained at large this morning, and Raymundo Hernandez, 34, also of Bronx, who already was in federal custody when last night’s arrests and this morning’s surrenders occurred.

Fishman said the conspirators incorporated businesses in New York or New Jersey, then deposited hundreds of thousands of dollars in fraudulently obtained checks into straw bank accounts in the names of those businesses.

They just as quickly withdrew the money, then used it to buy auctioned vehicles and to gamble in Atlantic City, he said.

The scam resulted in more than $2 million in losses to the U.S. Treasury, Fishman said.

Fishman credited special agents of IRS-Criminal Investigation, U.S. postal inspectors, U.S. Secret Service agents and special agents of the U.S. Postal Service-Office of the Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Rafael A. Medina, with the investigation leading to today’s charges.
Handling the case is Assistant U.S. Attorney Rahul Agarwal of Fishman’s General Crimes Unit in Newark.

Fishman noted that Stolen Identity Refund Fraud (SIRF) costs the U.S. government more than $2 billion a year in losses.

The schemes generally operate this way, he said:

• SIRF perpetrators obtain personal identifying information, including Social Security numbers and dates of birth, from unwitting individuals, who often reside in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico;

• SIRF participants complete 1040 tax return forms using the fraudulently-obtained information and falsifying wages earned, taxes withheld and other data, always ensuring that fraudulent tax return generates a refund;

• They direct the U.S. Treasury Department to mail the refund checks to locations that the perpetrators control or can access. In some cases, SIRF perpetrators bribe mail carriers to remove the refund checks from their mail routes;

• With the fraudulently obtained refund checks in hand, SIRF perpetrators generate cash proceeds by depositing the checks into bank accounts that they control.

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