A man from the Houston area who was arrested late last month at an airport while attempting to flee the country was indicted Friday in the Central District of California in what authorities allege is a multimillion dollar identity theft and tax refund fraud scheme involving more than 300 victims.
Fidelis Negbenebor, of Sugar Land, Texas, has been charged in a nine-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury charging him with three counts each of theft of government property, fraud in connection with identification documents, and aggravated identity theft.
According to prosecutors, Negbenebor allegedly used stolen identities, Internet anonymizing services and computer connections originating from multiple computers located in Africa and the United States to electronically file fraudulent tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service claiming refund checks to which he was not entitled. The proceeds, once deposited into fraudulently opened bank accounts, were allegedly then transferred to other banks located in the U.S. and locations abroad, including Ghana and Nigeria.
More than 300 potentially fraudulent tax returns have been identified in connection with the scheme, with a total loss to the government of approximately $3,478,182. One refund check allegedly generated as part of the scheme was in the amount of $1,003,957 and mailed to a University of California, Los Angeles student housing address.
The investigation led to the execution of a search warrant at Negbenebor’s Texas residence late last month. Items recovered from his home included several false identification documents and dozens of Social Security numbers belonging to other people.
The day after the search, Negbenebor traveled to Newark, N.J., and had made arrangements through an online Internet service to travel from New Jersey to Canada in an apparent attempt to flee the country. He was arrested on Sunday, June 30, 2013, at the Newark airport pursuant to the criminal complaint filed in the Central District of California. He has been detained pending trial in New Jersey and will be transported by the U.S. Marshals to the Central District to answer to the charges in the indictment.
According to prosecutors, he will have a post-indictment arraignment when he is transported to the Central District of California from the District of New Jersey, where he is currently detained. If convicted of the charges in the Indictment, Negbenebor faces up to 75 years in prison. In addition, the charge of aggravated identity theft carries a mandatory two-year prison term that must run consecutively with the other offenses. The investigation is being conducted by IRS Criminal Investigation in Los Angeles.