A Miami man convicted in a fraud case involving identity theft and income tax refunds was sentenced to 17 years in prison and ordered to pay $568,625 in restitution Tuesday.
Eddie Blanchard, 37, was convicted by a federal jury in May on 21 counts of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, conspiracy to obstruct official proceedings, and obstruction of official proceedings. He was sentenced Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson.
Federal sentencing guidelines called for a prison term of 14 to more than 17 years. The government asked for a sentence of 17 years and nine months while Blanchard sought a term lower than the guideline range.
Two co-defendants, Junior Jean Merilia, 34, and Ramoth Jean, 35, pleaded guilty to charges earlier in connection with the case.
Blanchard was indicted last October for participating in the Miami-based tax refund fraud scheme. He and three co-defendants, Jean, Merilia, and Jimmy Lord Calixte, who is still at large, traveled repeatedly to Richmond in 2012 and used stolen personal identifying information and online tax preparation programs to file hundreds of fraudulent tax returns.
Authorities allege the scammers posted fake job openings on legitimate employment sites and then obtained personal identifier information from unsuspecting job applicants. They filed the false returns electronically and the refunds were sent to prepaid debit cards, which were siphoned of cash or used to pay expenses such as the fake job postings.
The scheme started falling apart when the gang was late paying the rental fee for a storage unit on West Broad Street. The manager called police when it was learned the locker may have been rented using a stolen identity. A Henrico County police officer met Jean who was carrying a box taken from the unit and who agreed to be searched.
A debit card issued by TurboTax bearing another person’s name was found in one of Jean’s shoes. TurboTax is an online tax preparation service that places U.S. Internal Revenue Service refunds onto prepaid debit cards that are mailed to the taxpayer.
Police obtained search warrants for the box Jean was carrying and for the storage unit, and found hundreds of index cards bearing the names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of people across the country.
After Jean was arrested in June 2013, Blanchard persuaded him to mislead federal investigators about the identity of his co-conspirators, including the false implication of a man who died months before Jean was arrested. In the end, Jean refused to testify before a federal grand jury.
“The successful investigation and prosecution of this case is largely a matter of good luck, some sloppiness on the part of Blanchard and his co-conspirators, and excellent investigative work,” wrote Michael C. Moore, an assistant U.S. attorney in asking Hudson for a stiff prison term.
The case was investigated by the IRS, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Social Security Administration and the Henrico County Police Department as members of the Metro-Richmond Identity Theft Task Force.