TAMPA — Three years after Tampa police stumbled on the first active tax-refund fraud operation they had seen, one of the suspects was sentenced Monday to eight years and five months in federal prison.
Maurice “Thirst” Larry faces even more prison time when he is sentenced today in another case in which his girlfriend, Rashia Wilson, is serving 21 years of federal time. Larry is expected to face a longer term in the second case because it involves the theft of millions of dollars, while the other case involved hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Larry and Wilson, along with Marterrance “Qat” Holloway, are viewed as pioneers in the wave of stolen identity tax-refund fraud that has flooded the streets of Tampa, dubbed the epicenter of a national epidemic that has cost U.S. taxpayers billions and left countless identity theft victims to pick up the pieces.
Larry’s lawyer, Grady Irvin, told U.S. District Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich that Larry and others who committed the fraud didn’t think of the identity theft victims. Although it was wrong, they thought they were just stealing from the government, which could just write another check, Irvin said.
The scheme, known on the street as “TurboTax” or “drops,” has exploded in the past three years, with Tampa leading the nation. Authorities have said thieves here have stolen hundreds of millions of dollars from federal taxpayers by using stolen personal information to file tax returns and obtain fraudulent refunds.
Larry and Holloway came under scrutiny in connection with the fraud in September 2010, when officers entered a hotel room during a drug investigation. Detectives smelled marijuana and saw drugs. After Holloway and several other people were removed from the hotel, officers found four laptop computers they said were being used to file fraudulent tax returns.
There also were lists of personal information with more than 1,000 names, as well as debit cards and financial records. Holloway ultimately faced only drug charges in that arrest as police struggled with the legal barriers while investigating tax fraud cases.
Authorities said Larry, a high school dropout with five young children fathered out of wedlock, has been a jet-setter, flying between Miami, New York and Las Vegas. He and Holloway also drove expensive cars and wore pricey clothes.