LOS ANGELES – A former employee with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services (“DPSS”) pleaded guilty Monday and admitted that identities she stole from the county were used to file fraudulent tax returns in the names of 64 different people causing a loss to the Internal Revenue Service of over $357,000.
Veronica Niko, 36, of Lancaster, pleaded to one count of transfer/use of means of identification to commit an unlawful activity. Niko pleaded guilty before United States District Judge Dale S. Fischer, who scheduled a sentencing hearing for June 10, 2013, at which time Niko will face a statutory maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison.
Niko, who formerly worked as a receptionist in the Lancaster office of DPSS, used her position to obtain the names and Social Security Numbers which were used to file the fraudulent tax returns. As a receptionist, Niko was a contact person for individuals coming into the county office to apply for aid and had access to the names and Social Security Numbers of a large number of people who applied for or received certain types of State-administered public assistance.
In a plea agreement filed in federal court, Niko admitted that she provided the personal identifying information of various individuals applying for aid to her husband, co-defendant Thomas Marshall, 37, of Lancaster, who has previously admitted his role in the conspiracy to submit false claims for tax refunds to the IRS. Niko further admitted that she knew that Marshall intended to use the information for fraudulent purposes.
According to the plea agreement, county records show that on July 10, 2009, Niko accessed the identifying information of an unidentified victim. Niko provided this information to Marshall, and it was used to file with the IRS a false federal income tax return, falsely claiming a First Time Homebuyer Tax Credit and requesting an $8,000 refund. On August 14, 2009, the IRS issued the $8,000 refund which was deposited into an account maintained by co-defendant Michael Williams, 42, of Palmdale.
In total, the names and Social Security Numbers of 64 different individuals whose profiles Niko obtained from the county’s computer system were used to file 65 fraudulent tax returns through tax year 2011, causing an actual loss to the IRS of $357,704.90.
In addition to Niko, four other defendants were charged in the scheme. Defendant Marshall pleaded guilty in November to conspiracy to submit false claims to the IRS, and is scheduled to be sentenced on March 18, 2013. Mao Niko, 40, of Lynwood pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to submit false claims to the IRS and is scheduled to be sentenced on April 29, 2013. The two remaining defendants, Williams, along with co-defendant Mike Niko, 34, of Los Angeles, both of whom are facing a charge of conspiracy to submit false claims to the IRS, are scheduled to go to trial on April 16, 2013.
This investigation was conducted by special agents with the IRS – Criminal Investigation.
(Information via press release from the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation, Los Angeles Field Office)