IRB and WAPA workers charged with stealing $500,000 in tax refunds


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ST. THOMAS — Federal and local authorities rounded up four people Tuesday and charged them with running an elaborate scheme out of the Bureau of Internal Revenue that spread from St. Thomas to Pennsylvania and Atlanta, Ga., and swindled about half a million dollars from the bureau, the V.I. Justice Department said.

Tiffane Sutton, Errol Peterson and Colette Browne were arrested Tuesday on multiple charges that included embezzlement, obtaining money by false pretense and conversion of government property.

Tiffane Sutton is an employee of the Bureau of Internal Revenue; Browne was employed by the bureau until her arrest earlier this year on similar charges; and Peterson works with the V.I. Water and Power Authority.

Kimberly Sutton, the sister of Tiffane Sutton, also was taken into custody Tuesday by the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department in Georgia in connection with the same crime.

An arrest warrant also was executed on Thierry Serrant, who is in federal custody in Pennsylvania on a separate and unrelated charge, and an arrest warrant is outstanding for another suspect, Robert Lattimore, who still is being sought by law enforcement.

During a press conference Tuesday afternoon to announce the arrests, V.I. Attorney General Vincent Frazer turned to the public for help in locating Lattimore.

“Anyone who knows the whereabouts of Lattimore is asked to contact the Justice Department at
774-5666,” Frazer said.

The arrests are the result of a joint investigation conducted by the Department of Justice, the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

The charges stem from three separate cases, according to Assistant Attorney General Denise George, who outlined what the investigation revealed in all three instances.

In the first case, Tiffane Sutton is charged with fraud by officers and employees of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, fraud and false statements, forgery, identity theft and obtaining money by false pretense, George said.

Tiffane Sutton prepared a false tax return in a woman’s name and included the names of two children — who belonged to another person — as dependents, according to George. A tax refund was issued and was cashed by Kimberly Sutton, George said.

Tiffane Sutton’s bail was set at $50,000.

In the second case, Tiffane Sutton, Kimberly Sutton, Serrant and Lattimore were charged in connection with the fraudulent cashing of legitimate tax return checks.

George said the matter first was brought to the attention of another victim who had indicated that he had not received his tax return.

The investigation revealed that there were problems with the man’s address on the form and the check in the amount of $193,888.23 was returned to the Bureau of Internal Revenue. Tiffane Sutton received the check from the V.I. Finance Department and was responsible for mailing it out.

“The investigation revealed, through conversations with Serrant, that Tiffane Sutton had mailed the check to Kimberly Sutton in Georgia. Kimberly Sutton then mailed the check to Serrant in Pennsylvania and with the request that Serrant would cash the check, keep some of the money and return the other money to Kimberly Sutton,” George said.

Video surveillance shows that Serrant and Lattimore opened an account at a bank in Pennsylvania in the names  Serrant and the victim. Lattimore, producing false identification, represented himself as the victim.

The following day, they deposited the $193,888.23 check.

George said Tiffane Sutton orchestrated similar schemes in at least four other instances.

The four have been charged with obtaining by false pretense, embezzlement by clerks, agents and employees, conversion of government property, fraudulent claims upon the government, violations of the Criminally Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and conspiracy, George said.

The warrant for Lattimore was set at $100,000; Tiffane Sutton’s bail was set at $100,000; and the bail for Kimberly Sutton and Serrant was unknown, according to a statement from the Justice Department.

The third case relates to the arrest of Tiffane Sutton, Browne and Peterson on charges of conspiracy, obtaining money by false pretense, conversion of government property, identity theft, fraudulent claims upon the government and violations of the Criminally Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, according to George.

“These persons were involved in a fraudulent scheme over a long period of time, with tax refund checks going back to tax year 2002, most of which were cashed from about 2006,” she said.

Tax refund checks were prepared with the names of several homeless, unemployed persons and false information about their income, and as a result, tax refunds were generated. The checks were prepared by Browne within the Bureau of Internal Revenue, entered into the system, and the tax refunds were sent to Peterson’s post office box number.

Peterson collected the checks and took them to the persons whose names were on the tax returns; they would sign off, he would give them some money, but he would retain most of the money, according to George.

The investigation shows that about 23 fraudulent tax returns were created, covering at least eight unemployed persons, some of whom cooperated with the government and indicated that they were approached by Peterson and assisted Peterson in cashing the checks, George said.

“The evidence shows that a couple of the tax refund checks were deposited in Tiffane Sutton’s bank account here in the Virgin Islands and cashed by her,” George said.

Bail was set at $100,000 for each of the defendants.

Claudette Watson-Anderson, director of the Bureau of Internal Revenue Director, described the incidents as “a sad day for the Bureau of Internal Revenue. She said the bureau is cognizant of the areas of vulnerability, and the bureau continues to strengthen internal controls that govern those activities.

“We continue to assess these controls and make appropriate changes as needed, so these actions may remain in the past,” Watson-Anderson said.

Watson-Anderson said she does not believe the schemes are continuing.

“We’re 100 percent invested in making sure that it doesn’t continue,” she said.

Tiffane Sutton, Peterson and Browne were scheduled to be advised of their rights today in V.I. Superior Court.

If convicted of the crimes, penalties could include prison sentences and up to $500,00 in fines.

— Contact reporter Corliss Smithen at 774-8772 ext. 302 or
e-mail
csmithen@dailynews.vi.

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