MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Three former collegiate and NFL stars have been arrested by the FBI on federal charges related to an alleged scheme to steal identities and file false tax returns worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The players include former first round draft pick out of the University of Miami defensive tackle William Joseph; former first round draft pick out of the University of Wisconsin running back Michael Bennett; and Syracuse University defensive tackle Louis Gachelin who was drafted by the Patriots in 2004.
All three were initially questioned by the FBI in the North Miami Beach regional office and then were taken to the Federal Detention Center in downtown Miami for court appearances.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Joseph, Gacehlin, Regina Carroll, 37, of Miami; Lanny Fried, 34 of Miami Lakes; Guy Maxineau, 35, of Miami; Castra Pierre-Louis, 34, Miami; and Gunie Similien, 32, of Miami were all charged Tuesday with forgery of U.S. Treasury checks, theft of government money, and use of five or more identification documents with unlawful intent.
The FBI said from February 2012 to April 2012, it operated a financial services store in North Miami to accept fraudulently obtained tax refund checks from people looking to cash the checks.
Undercover FBI agents worked at the store and would charge fees ranging from 35 percent to 45 percent of the face value of the checks for their service.
According to the FBI, the named defendants would use false identities in the name of the taxpayer victim whose refund they had just allegedly stolen. FBI agents said the defendants would forge the victim’s signature on the back of the check while in the store.
During the investigation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said the defendants negotiated with undercover agents at the store to cash roughly $500,000 in fraudulently obtained tax refund checks. The FBI said the alleged thieves were paid from official FBI fund and none of the tax refund checks were actually cashed.
If convicted, each of the people charged could face maximum prison terms of between five and 15 years in prison.
Bennett’s case was separate from the Joseph charges, but the U.S. Attorney’s office said the case was related.
Bennett was charged with wire fraud after he attempted to obtain a $200,000 loan from the same FBI undercover store.
The FBI said Bennett showed an agent a false bank statement that said he had $9 million in collateral for the loan in his bank.
FBI agents said Bennett signed a loan agreement and then picked up a check worth $150,000 from the store and was immediately arrested. Agents said Bennett had used a fake bank statement to obtain a loan in 2011.
FBI agents contacted his bank after his arrest and confirmed he had a zero balance and that the account never had any money in it.
According to the criminal complaint, Bennett confessed to the crime after waiving his Miranda rights.
South Florida has become a haven for tax-related fraud and identity theft in the past few years.
The problem has gotten so bad that Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz recently introduced legislation to toughen the penalties for tax fraud and identity theft. Senator Bill Nelson proposed a similar bill that would make tax fraud through identity theft a felony with up to five years in prison.
(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Miami Herald contributed to this report.)