Feds Bust Three Former NFL Players For Tax Fraud And Identity Theft

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FBI agents faked out a couple of ex-NFL football players and a former local high school star by setting up a check-cashing store “front” in North Miami, where the players are accused of cashing dozens of fraudulently obtained tax-refund checks and seeking a loan — all totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The undercover operation, designed to block an alleged identity-theft and tax-refund scheme, sacked a pair of National Football League veterans and a Miami Jackson High graduate:

• William Joseph, a University of Miami defensive tackle who was drafted in the first round by the New York Giants in 2003 and last played with the Oakland Raiders in 2010.

• Michael Bennett, a University of Wisconsin running back who also was drafted in the first round by the Minnesota Vikings in 2001 and finished his career with the Raiders in 2011.

• Louis Gachelin, a Miami Jackson High and Syracuse University defensive lineman who signed as a free agent with the New England Patriots in 2004. Gachelin never made the final roster.

Authorities say the latest tax-related fraud case, while unique because of the ex-NFL defendants, is yet another example of the escalating number of reported identity-theft crimes in South Florida and nationwide.

FBI agents arrested the three former players — Joseph, 32, of Miramar, Gachelin, 31, of Miramar, and Bennett, 33, of Tampa — on Monday. The defendants were granted bonds Tuesday by U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Dube.

Arraignments are set for May 15. Their lawyers declined to comment. As part of the investigation, the FBI also arrested five other defendants Monday.

Joseph, Gachelin and those five defendants were charged with cashing a total of about $500,000 in fraudulently obtained tax-refund checks, forging signatures on the checks and unlawfully using identification documents such as a driver’s license. As part of the sting, the FBI charged 35 percent to 45 percent in fees to cash their checks with the bureau’s own funds.

Bennett, charged with wire fraud, tried to obtain a $200,000 loan on April 18 from the check-cashing store front, using a UBS financial statement falsely showing that he had $9 million in collateral for the loan, according to a criminal complaint. Ironically, it was Bennett’s former Raiders’ teammate, Joseph, who introduced him to the undercover store in North Miami.

Joseph himself was tripped up by another defendant, Lanny Fried, 34, of Miami Lakes, who got caught trying to cash checks at the store front and then began cooperating with agents to target the former NFL player. U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said identity theft is “America’s fastest-growing crime,” claiming countless legitimate consumers and taxpayers as victims.

“Organized criminals are stealing $5 billion and more by fraudulently claiming tax refunds,” said John V. Gillies, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Miami office.

Gillies took a slight jab at the Internal Revenue Service, which has been pressured by Congress to speed up electronic refunds but has not installed ample software protections against ID theft and fraud.

“Without proper safeguards, identity theft tax fraud has become a growing epidemic,” Gillies said.



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