AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Fort Benning soldiers targeted in tax fraud scheme

As low as it goes, federal investigators say...

Eight of the female fraudsters, including two Georgia residents and a woman who worked at a hospital at Fort Benning, now have been sentenced to federal prison for their roles in the $24 million theft.

On Friday, Columbus resident Mequetta Snell-Quick drew a 24-month sentence and was ordered to pay $199,471 in restitution to the IRS, and Midland resident Patrice Taylor was sentenced to serve 12 months and ordered to pay $28,783. Also sentenced was one of the ringleaders, an Alabama resident who worked at a hospital at Fort Benning and used her position to steal identification data on military personnel. Tracy Mitchell of Phenix City was sentenced to serve 159 months in prison and ordered to pay a forfeiture judgment in the amount of $329,242, which was seized in cash from her residence, according to the Justice Department.

The ring used ID information they stole to file fraudulent income tax returns and claim refunds. In addition to the Fort Benning personnel, victims were from a call center in Columbus, Georgia, another Georgia company not named in Justice Department information and the Alabama Department of Corrections.

Five other residents of the small town of Phenix City - located less than 10 miles from the military base - also were sentenced yesterday and two others were previously sentenced. The last of the ring members, a Seale, Alabama resident, is to be sentenced later this month.

At Friday's sentencing in a federal courtroom in Alabama, the government offered impact statements from several people whose identities were stolen, including one from the mother of a 19-year-old U.S. Army soldier victimized while he was deployed overseas.

"While [my son] was fighting for our country and all back home I received a very disturbing phone call from an Agent  from the IRS that my son, while at Ft. Benning training to defend our country...had his identity stolen and fraudulent tax returns were filed with his social security number. This news was devastating to think that my 19-year-old son...was wronged by one of those people [he] was willing to die for...As I tried my best to keep composed and handle all of the gruesome mounds of paperwork to get this straightened out with the IRS, [my son] was then denied his tax refund...We were too afraid to tell [him] while he was deployed because we did not want to worry him and we wanted him to focus only on getting home alive and not have to worry about such an atrocious act by someone who did not even know [him]."

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About the Author

Lois Norder is Senior Editor for Investigations in the newsroom at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.