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ID theft scheme stole information from thousands to obtain tax returns

A federal grand jury has indicted seven people for identity theft.  U.S. Attorney Carter Stewart says six of them are citizens of Zimbabwe who lived in the Cincinnati area at one time. He says they used the stolen identities to obtain millions in fraudulent income tax returns:

"The scheme was so efficient and well planned that they often had the refunds in hand before the actual taxpayers even filed their legitimate tax returns."

Stewart says the defendants usually received the refunds on debit cards, and they and others working for them allegedly cashed them at ATMs or by purchasing money orders:

"The cash was used to support their living here, but they also wired money to co-conspirators in Africa; and they bought expensive vehicles and electronic equipment here as well and had them shipped overseas.

Agents estimate the group filed IRS refund claims for as much as $10 million. 

Stewart says the scheme grew from a small tax preparation service started by two of the defendants who were brothers.  He says the service was known as Express Refund Center.  

Named in the indictment are:

Kudzaiishe Marimbire, 34

Hlomera Mabhande, 30

Johanes Tagarisa, 37

Kudzaishe Bungu, 26

Tawanda Marimbire, 23

Andrew Bere, 22

Julius Marimbire, 32

Of the seven who were indicted Kudzaishe Bungu is scheduled for arraignment and Tawanda Marimbire is in custody, but authorities believe the other five fled to Zimbabwe.  They're hoping to have them extradited.

All seven are charged with conspiracy.  If convicted they each could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.  The indictment also includes charges of fraud, which is punishable by up to a 20-year sentence; aggravated identity theft, punishable by at least two years; money laundering, punishable by up to 10 years; making false claims, punishable by up to five years; and filing false income tax returns, punishable by up to three years in prison.

Darryl Williams, IRS Special Agent in Charge with the Cincinnati Field Office, says he encourages those who think they were a victim of identity theft to go the IRS website or call 1-800-908-4490.