OAKLAND -- Two East Bay men and one man from San Francisco face charges of wire fraud and identity theft after they allegedly convinced people to fill out a form that revealed private information the men would use to file false tax returns, federal prosecutors announced Tuesday.
According to court documents, from May 2011 to February 2012, Antioch resident Sean Lucas Cowgill allegedly created an identification form that included questions requiring personal information, such as name, income, birthday, Social Security number and type of work to be able to file false tax returns and obtain money.
To help him determine who he could use on his tax returns, Cowgill trained and used recruiters to convince people to complete the form in order to figure out if they were eligible for a stimulus program sponsored by the federal government. Cowgill then used the completed forms to file false federal individual income tax returns, claiming fraudulent tax credits and refunds, prosecutors said.
After receiving the refunds, Cowgill paid recruiters $50 to $100 for each form that resulted in a tax refund.
From September 2011 to February 2012, Cowgill taught San Francisco resident Juanco Tango Andres and Hayward resident Guadalupe Nieves, Jr. how to use information from the identification forms to complete the false federal income tax returns, according to U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag. Like Cowgill, Andres and Nieves also trained and used recruiters to convince people to complete the form. In exchange for his help, Andres and Nieves paid Cowgill a $50 "franchise fee" for each tax refund, court documents stated.
It is unclear how the three men knew each other.
The men were indicted on July 23. Cowgill was charged with 13 counts of wire fraud and three counts of aggravated identity theft. Both Andres and Nieves were charged with 10 counts of wire fraud, and Andres was also charged with eight counts of aggravated identity theft. Nieves was charged with only one count of aggravated identity theft.
The maximum penalty for each count of wire fraud is 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. The maximum penalty for aggravated identity theft is two years in prison and a fine of $250,000.