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Wednesday, Sep 20, 2017
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Ex-inmate: jail tax fraud is rampant

TAMPA - Add convicted thief Gilbert Rodriguez to the long list of people frustrated with the Internal Revenue Service. Already, law enforcement officials and identity theft victims have stepped forward to criticize the federal tax collection agency for its evident inability to deal with an explosion in tax refund fraud. Authorities say the fraud has siphoned hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars from government coffers and into the hands of criminals, leaving identity theft victims unable to get their legitimate tax refunds. Rodriguez, 60, will be the first person to tell you he's "no saint."
In fact, he was just released from state prison in August after serving about 20 years for a long list of fraud and theft charges. But still, he says, he was angry when he read news reports about a couple suing the Internal Revenue Service for delaying their tax refund after someone stole the husband's identity and used it to get a fraudulent tax refund. Rodriguez said he was so mad he picked up the phone and offered to help the couple's attorney. Rodriguez offered to reveal information about how the criminals get away with it and how the IRS fails to investigate and prevent the fraud. He says tax refund fraud was rampant in the state prisons where he served his sentence, and he tried for years to tell the federal government what was going on. "There's not a prison in the state of Florida that doesn't have someone doing income tax" fraud, he said. Inmates use each others' Social Security numbers and information from inmate family members and friends to file for phony refunds, he said. Some have made so much money they have used the proceeds to open legitimate businesses after they're released, Rodriguez said. Asked about Rodriguez's claims, state Department of Corrections spokeswoman Jo Ellyn Rackleff said in an email, "During tax season each year we receive allegations regarding tax fraud (some are anonymous and others are not). In all cases, we report these to the inspector general's office." Rackleff said the warden at Zephyrhills Correctional Institution, where Rodriguez was held, remembers Rodriguez, "but he does not remember him reporting anything about tax fraud here, although he did make many allegations against nursing staff and security." Rodriguez readily admits he was trying to help himself — hoping authorities would give him credit and an earlier prison release — when he tried to blow the whistle on the tax fraud. But now that he's out, he says, he has nothing to gain, except maybe helping make things right after his years of crime. Rodriguez said that when inmates did get caught committing tax fraud, they were given a slap on the wrist and moved to a different facility, where before long, they'd be at it again. He said he first became aware of the fraud being committed behind bars in the early 1990s. Other inmates asked him if he had family members or friends with Social Security numbers they could use. "They do it every day," Rodriguez said of the tax fraud. "Every day." He said he didn't commit tax fraud, but he did provide an inmate with his Social Security number. He said he was trying to get information about how the fraud was committed. "I wanted to figure out … what they did," he said.

News Channel 8 reporter Lauren Mayk contributed to this report. esilvestrini@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7837
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