A total of 32 individuals, most from the Long Beach area, were indicted in connection with an identity theft ring that allegedly took more than $3.3 million in tax refunds from victims and involved the use of debit cards in the victims’ name to benefit a street gang from 2011 to 2012, authorities said.
Several defendants were arrested in Long Beach last Thursday by Long Beach police, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department website. They are being held on bail, starting at $140,000 to a maximum of $340,000.
Eight of the defendants, 11 of whom are women and 21 of whom are male, were arraigned today on charges ranging from conspiracy and identity theft to grand theft. They were ordered to appear in court for a pretrial hearing on Monday, while the rest will appear in court this week, on Monday and Tuesday afternoon.
“Victims either were not expecting a refund, or had no reason to suspect that they were not receiving their refund due to anything other than a glitch in the tax return system,'' the indictment stated.
While most of the defendants remained in jail, the judge said some had posted bail following their arrest, despite orders to restrict the source of their bail. He said this would normally have prompted a hearing before their release.
Officials discovered the fraud via wiretap, according to the indictment, which was issued by a San Diego grand jury and filed July 30. The crimes were discovered in April 2012.
According to the Attorney General's Office, a Long Beach police detective found the personal information of hundreds of individuals at an address affiliated the gang. Prosecutors said the defendants and the identity theft leaders communicated via text message. The leaders filed fraudulent tax returns, which resulted in refunds being loaded onto prepaid debit cards in the name of the victims. The cards were used to "fund the gang's illicit activities, lavish lifestyle and to recruit members," the Attorney General's Office said.
Deputy Attorney General Tawnya Austin said that because the indictments were being discussed in the community, there was no need to seal the indictments, as they were “no longer secret.”
City News Service contributed to this report.
This story was updated at 5:45 PM with additional information regarding the total amount stolen and instances surrounding the discovery of the fraud.