IRS probing ‘romance scheme’ that targeted California woman

Criminal investigators with the Internal Revenue Service in California are looking into a suspected online romance scheme that targeted a California woman, Ethanb822 has learned.

It’s unclear where exactly the investigation is taking place, however, records indicate it to be somewhere in the jurisdiction of the Eastern District of California. Counties in that jurisdiction include Solano, Fresno, and Sacramento.

In an application for a seizure warrant filed in federal court last week, officials asked to seize over $500,000 held in a Bank of America account by a woman referred to in court documents as J.E. Investigators say they suspect the woman was used as a “money-mule” by a fraudster who may be operating overseas.

According to IRS records, agents say, a couple complained in 2015 after someone allegedly used their names and social security numbers to file a tax return earlier that year. The couple is referred to in court documents as C.T. and D.T. The refund, clocking in at $561,361, was deposited into the checking account owned by J.E.

On May 13, two days after the first tax return was filed, another one came through — this time in the name of a different couple, J.C. and A.C. This tax return, over $74,000, was again deposited into the bank account of J.E. The second couple also reported the fraud to IRS investigators, bringing J.E. up on their radar as a prime suspect.

On December 17, 2015, agents interviewed J.E, who told them she was dating a man named Ronalind Piner Scott, a man who claimed to be employed by the CIA in Scottland, through an online website. This immediately brought up a red flag for IRS Special Agent Christopher Fitzpatrick.

“Based on my training and experience investigating romance schemes, criminals will use unwitting money-mules to receive and distribute fraud proceeds obtained from tax refund schemes and other schemes,” Fitzpatrick wrote. “Furthermore, romance scheme victims are often utilized to add a layer with the criminal perpetrating the fraud and because the victims have bank accounts located in the United States to receive fraud proceeds from government agencies and other sources.”

On July 19, the feds interviewed a Bank of America employee, who said the funds from the IRS were moved to a “hold harmless” account with a balance of $511,216.09.

Investigators believe that a currently unknown individual has swindled J.E. into unknowingly acting as a co-conspirator in the extensive fraud case, using the woman for her US-based bank account to hold the stolen funds in. Officials say the “Ronalind Piner Scott” character was the individual who filed the two tax returns posing as the previously mentioned couples, dumping off the fraudulent tax returns into J.E’s account — someone who had gained their trust as they dated online.

US Magistrate Judge Deborah Barnes has approved the federal warrant to seize J.E’s accounts containing over $560,000 in total. Authorities have been ordered to take hold of the account, based in California, within the next 14 days. Officials must also give a copy of the warrant to J.E. or a bank employee.