CHICAGO (CBS) — A former Chicago resident is going to prison for more than 18 years, after admitting to trying to defraud the state and federal government out of more than $65 million using the identities of prisoners and the dead.
Marvin Berokwitz, 64, pleaded guilty to running a fraud ring that took in at least $3.7 million in actual tax refunds from the Internal Revenue Service, and another $6.5 million from tax agencies in at least 33 states, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. He was sentenced to 18 years and 4 months in prison Friday.
He fled to Israel in 2003, but Israeli authorities caught him in Jerusalem six years later. Prosecutors say he orchestrated a scheme involving at least 58 people, who controlled about 90 addresses and 42 bank accounts, in obtaining fraudulent tax refunds.
Between 2003 and 2009, Berkowitz used the names of prison inmates and deceased people without the consent of their families to file thousands of fraudulent tax returns, prosecutors said. The returns included fake addresses, phone numbers, deductions, business losses and expenses, credit and wage statements, prosecutors said. Berkowitz also forged the signatures of the imprisoned or dead people.
As part of his scheme, Berkowitz pretended to be a tax preparer, a certified public accountant, a rabbi, an attorney, and the owner of a tax preparation business to hoodwink people into letting him have their tax information, prosecutors said.
In fact, Berkowitz was prohibited from working as a tax preparer, following a ruling against him in 1984.
The IRS caught on fast enough to ensure that about $50 million in fraudulent refunds were never pad, prosecutors said.
Berkowitz’s had been involved in tax fraud for 20 years, and in court Friday, U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall noted his “arrogance and attitude that he was above the law,” prosecutors said.