Hemet Man Sentenced to Five Years in Prison for Identity Theft Scheme that Claimed More than $800,000 in False Tax Refunds

RIVERSIDE, California – An Inland Empire man has been sentenced to 60 months in federal prison for his role in scheme that stole victims’ identities and used them to claim more than $800,000 in fraudulent tax refunds.

Raymond Salazar, 55, of Hemet, was sentenced Monday by United States District Judge Jesus G. Bernal. Salazar was further ordered to pay restitution of $298,693. Salazar pleaded guilty in August 2018 to one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.

Three other defendants involved in the scheme have pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges and are awaiting sentencing in March. They are:

·         Charlene Castrejon, 60, of Hemet;

·         Rebecca Mona Sandoval, 35 of San Jacinto; and

·         Robert Manuel Gamboa, Jr., known as Paul Timothy Garcia, 31, of Highland.

As part of their scheme, which continued through April 2015, Salazar and his co-conspirators obtained the names, Social Security numbers and dates of birth of individuals without their knowledge or consent, according to Salazar’s plea agreement.

The conspirators then used their victims’ identities to prepare and file false and fraudulent federal income tax returns that contained false income, dependent, earned income credit, education credit and child tax credit information, court documents state.

For example, in January 2013, Salazar and his co-defendants used one victim’s identity to knowingly file a false income tax return for 2012 that falsely stated the victim’s income and that the victim had a dependent who purportedly was the victim’s disabled nephew, court papers state. The return falsely stated that the identity theft victim was entitled to an earned income tax credit and refund of $3,169, according to Salazar’s plea agreement.

The refund payments were mailed to addresses or deposited directly into taxpayer debit card accounts that Salazar and his co-defendants controlled. In total, Salazar and his co-conspirators succeeded in obtaining approximately $569,334.26 in federal tax refunds from the Internal Revenue Service, Salazar’s plea agreement states.

In addition, in May 2013 Salazar and his co-defendants knowingly possessed at his Hemet residence at least 15 credit and debit cards and Social Security numbers belonging to their victims and which were intended to be used to file false federal income tax returns, according to court documents.

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