Six people were arrested on Long Island Thursday on charges of fraudulently collecting more than $2.5 million in federal income tax refunds in a scheme that is spreading across the country, authorities said.
The scheme involves exploiting a regulation that exempts residents of Puerto Rico from paying federal income tax on money earned on the island, officials said.
"This scheme has metastasized throughout the country," Loretta Lynch, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District, said in a statement.
Similar schemes have defrauded the federal government of millions of dollars in the Bronx, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Texas, officials said.
To combat the fraud and others involving identity theft in the New York area, Lynch said a task force has been set up involving federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
Between April 2011 and November 2013, the accused Long Island fraudsters obtained Social Security numbers and other personal information, including dates of birth, from residents of Puerto Rico, then filed tax returns in their names seeking hefty refunds, officials said. The return addresses for the returns were on Long Island.
The indictment did not explain how the accused obtained the checks, though they were charged with cashing them at banks and check-cashing services.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Caffarone said the Long Island investigation is continuing.
It's unlikely that a person living in Puerto Rico would be aware that their identity was being used in the scheme, sources familiar with the cases said.
The defendants were charged with a number of crimes, including conspiracy, stealing Treasury Department checks and passing the checks with forged endorsements.
They pleaded not guilty during their arraignment Thursday in U.S. District Court in Central Islip.
Those charged were Rosa Adames, 42, of Valley Stream; Ramon DeLosAngeles, 62, of upstate Cairo; Robert Diaz, 29, of Copiague; Alex Rodriquez, 37, of Freeport; Jokasta Taveras, 28, of Lindenhurst; and David Turcios, 32, of Roosevelt.
Two other defendants are being sought by federal agents, officials said. They are Reyssy Duran, 30, of Freeport; and Nelson Guzman, 44, of Copiague, officials said.
Each faces 10 to 35 years in prison if convicted.