HAMMOND, Ind. (STMW) – A federal judge said he wouldn’t be surprised if two women were responsible for the loss of more than $1 million in their tax return fraud scheme but decided to sentence them to 41 months each because of their cooperation.

U.S. District Judge Philip Simon said during the sentencing hearing at the U.S. District Court in Hammond for Rosetta Yvonne Buchanan, 36, and Francesca Foster, 33, that their crimes were “breathtaking,” stealing the identities of about 260 people and using them to file for their tax returns. He called the crime of identity theft a serious one that couldn’t be overstated.

“It’s just a nightmare for people, a total nightmare,” he said.

However, he said he reluctantly agreed to go below the 57 to 71 months recommended for both women by federal guidelines because Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Collins had spoken so highly of their cooperation in the case.

Collins said during Foster’s sentencing that the defendant had not only agreed to plead guilty to the crime but had also turned over jewelry and other property to recover the losses from her crime.

Foster confessed in December to using her position at an H&R Block in East Chicago to get access to clients’ personal information. She and Buchanan then used that to file for the tax returns before the clients filed.

Foster apologized to H&R Block for hurting its reputation and to the victims.

“They do not deserve my deceit,” she said.

Police first learned of the fraud scheme when people started reporting that someone else had done their tax returns. However, they didn’t connect Foster and Buchanan to the scheme until a police officer in Highland pulled them over on a traffic violation. He found about 100 debit cards in the car, along with other personal identity information, according to records.

Simon did not sentence the women to pay restitution, citing the IRS’s authority to collect its own money.

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