Federal prosecutors on Monday charged a former Internal Revenue Service employee with illegally accessing agency computers and filing false claims against the government.
Andrea Bennett allegedly used an IRS computer system when she was a contact representative in Indianapolis to view the tax accounts of 12 individuals and prepare six fraudulent 2006 income tax returns. According to the Justice Department, Bennett accessed the Integrated Data Retrieval System 285 times between May 2007 and November 2007 for nonwork reasons.
The charges followed probes by the IRS criminal investigation division and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.
"Since it is an ongoing case, we can't comment," said Robert Sperling, a spokesman for TIGTA, when asked whether the incident reflects weaknesses in IDRS access controls, or a failure in employee oversight. "We're letting the U.S. attorney handle it from this point on."
Timothy Morrison, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, said each of the six income tax returns Bennett filed contained false Indianapolis addresses and fictitious income and dependent information that allowed her to claim the maximum refundable earned income tax credit. The IRS allegedly granted her refunds for five of the returns, totaling $13,813, before she was caught.
"None of the people who had false tax refunds filed in their names knew anything," Morrison said. "They had no clue. If they had filed tax returns that would have set off the bells, but she was looking for people who for some reason or another did not have income tax filed."
Bennett reportedly deposited the refunds electronically in an Internet bank account that she had opened in her own name at Tri-Century Bank in Simpson, Kan. The bank put a hold on one deposit after officials noticed that the Social Security number listed did not match Bennett's, sparking the investigations.
Bennett faces a maximum prison sentence of 10 years and fine of $500,000. An initial hearing will be scheduled before a U.S. magistrate judge in Indianapolis.