By Dana Kozlov and Adam Harrington
CHICAGO (CBS) – Federal authorities on Thursday charged a woman with filing false income tax returns and obtaining fraudulent COVID-19 stimulus payments using the identities of homicide victims in Chicago and beyond – some of whom were children.
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Katrina Pierce has been charged with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. She has already served a prison sentence for a similar set of crimes.
As reported by CBS 2 political investigator Dana Kozlov, among Pierce’s alleged victims is Amari Brown, who was only 7 when he was shot and killed on a sidewalk in the Humboldt Park neighborhood. in 2015.
In a 33-page criminal complaint, an IRS special agent reported that the Cook County Bureau of Vital Records first distrusted Pierce in October or November 2019, when a staff member uploaded electronic death certificate requests submitted by money changers within one day. .
Pierce had completed four different requests at four different money changers in one day – claiming to be the rightful deceased of four people who all had different last names, according to the complaint.
It turned out that Pierce had applied for 37 death certificates in 2019 alone, and managed to get at least 26 of them. All were homicide victims aged 2 to 22 who were killed. from the south and west sides of Chicago, according to the complaint. noted.
Requests for death certificates had also arrived of a “Tracy Scott” and a “Tammy Jones” using the same West Englewood neighborhood address that Pierce herself had used, according to the complaint. The two names are believed to be aliases for Pierce. The apps claimed that “Scott” worked for “Pierce Auto” and Jones for “Pierce Inc.” at the West Englewood building, according to the complaint.
In January 2020, IRS agents visited the West Englewood building, which turned out to be a two-bedroom apartment, according to the complaint. They went to the trash in the back and took four trash bags – in which they found abandoned handwritten notes of all the different people who died – with names, dates of birth and other information, and with manners to die such as “shot,” “stabbed” or “fallen” scribbled in the margins, says the complaint.
Pierce sought to steal the identities of homicide victims in St. Louis, and at least one shooting victim in St. Louis was used by Pierce to file false income tax returns in 2020 and 2021 for false checks from relaunch COVID and prepaid debit cards, the complaint mentioned.
Investigators later determined that Pierce had filed more than a dozen false tax returns in 2020 and 2021 – using his own name, an alias or stolen ID.
The first was a Form 1040 filed in February 2020 on behalf of a homicide victim whose identity Pierce had stolen after fraudulently obtaining her county death certificate, according to the complaint. The form called for a refund of $ 1,923 to be deposited into an account at Green Dot Bank, which issues prepaid debit cards, according to the complaint.
The man Pierce is accused of using in this case was shot and killed in a backyard in 2013, and Pierce claimed to be his sister, according to the complaint.
According to the complaint, many other tax returns have been filed by Pierce that have followed a similar pattern. In one, she claimed as a dependent child a 7-year-old boy who was shot and killed on a Chicago sidewalk in 2015, and claimed she was entitled to a child tax credit and a earned income tax credit, according to the complaint.
The boy referenced in this file is said to be Amari, who was killed in a drive-by shootout in the 1100 block of North Harding Avenue on July 4, 2015. His murder made headlines that summer.
Another statement filed in April 2020 used the name “Rajona Pierce” – an alias Pierce had admitted to having used previously, according to the complaint. This statement brought in $ 1 in income and did not ask for a refund, and claimed it represented receipts from a beauty salon at 4946 S. State St. – where a Robert Taylor Homes skyscraper once stood and where there is nothing left at all, says the complaint.
Pierce has filed false statements using the name of a man who was shot dead in St. Louis twice – in 2020 and 2021, according to the complaint. She used her own home address in Grand Crossing for the return and listed a prepaid debit card checking account provided by Stride Bank, according to the complaint.
Stride Bank files showed the U.S. Treasury deposited a $ 10 refund on a $ 100 income claim and a $ 1,400 COVID-19 stimulus payment, into the account Pierce created, according to the complaint.
Pierce also filed an income tax return claiming that the murdered 7-year-old boy – again suspected of being Amari – was in her care again in 2019, claiming she was entitled to a child tax credit and to an earned income tax credit, according to the complaint.
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The IRS agent reported that the use of accounts with various banks that issue prepaid debit cards was an attempt at money laundering.
Pierce also applied for several economic disaster loans on behalf of small businesses that weren’t real or were located elsewhere in Illinois or other states – including Iowa, Montana, and Idaho – according to the complaint. None of these requests were approved due to suspicion of fraud.
In one case, Pierce is suspected of having applied for a loan on behalf of a manufacturing company called “Katrina D. Pierce LLC” at West Englewood, which is said to have 106 employees and $ 670,000 in gross income, according to the complaint.
She also applied for loans using the name of a farming business in southern Illinois, a small business owner from Idaho, a farmer from Montana and two from Iowa, according to the complaint.
The IRS agent spoke with Pierce’s niece’s boyfriend, who admitted he and his girlfriend lived in the West Englewood building which was used as an address on many tax returns and loan applications , according to the complaint. He said Pierce had already been jailed for 11 years for fraud and Pierce fell out with his girlfriend, according to the complaint.
The niece’s boyfriend said Pierce moved in with them after being released from prison in April 2019 and moved around spring 2020, according to the complaint. He told the agent that Pierce didn’t like him because he was preventing Pierce from defrauding his niece, according to the complaint.
He also said he continued to receive mail on behalf of others – including death certificates and prepaid debit cards that authorities have now linked Pierce to, according to the complaint.
Pierce’s niece herself corroborated this story, according to the complaint.
In 2012, Pierce was sentenced to 11 years in federal prison for a similar program. She apparently served seven sentences, after being released in 2019.
Pierce already had 10 previous convictions for fraud or theft by that time, federal prosecutors said at the time.
In the 2012 case, Pierce pleaded guilty to fraud and aggravated identity theft. Prosecutors wrote in a memo about the sentence that she “engaged in sweeping and all-consuming schemes to steal the identities of the dead, embezzle funds from her country’s coffers, cheat programs designed to benefit children and to working parents, and defrauding governments across the country – anything to get rich. [her] full time occupation and she was good at it.
In the previous case, Pierce obtained driver’s licenses, birth certificates, and Social Security cards using the names and credentials of those who died – and the ID cards she obtained featured her. photo next to the names of those who died, prosecutors said. This lasted from January 2007 to July 2008.
She also obtained fraudulent documents for “Rajona Pierce” – the alias she is also accused of using in this latest case, prosecutors said. Pierce even had what was supposed to be a birth certificate and Social Security card for the fictitious “Rajona Pierce,” prosecutors said at the time.
In the 2012 case, Pierce caused the filing of approximately 180 fraudulent federal tax returns for the 2006 and 2007 tax years – again claiming to represent a deceased person. She falsely claimed more than half a million dollars in tax refunds and got more than $ 60,000 before the IRS knew it, prosecutors said at the time.
Pierce also defrauded an Illinois Department of Social Services program that provided funding to child care providers – in which she used stolen identities and fraudulent documents to constitute a fictitious child care provider , fictitious children and fictitious parents, prosecutors said. In total, she raised more than $ 146,000 from the state on behalf of 13 child care providers, prosecutors said.
She also obtained $ 3,800 in food stamps from the United States Department of Agriculture on behalf of “Rajona Pierce,” and obtained over $ 21,000 by filing false state income tax returns in Kansas, Maryland. , in New York and other states, prosecutors said.
She also paid people to lie to federal agents in the 2012 case, prosecutors said.
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In the latter case, a judge ordered Pierce to be held in federal custody. She is due to return for a video hearing in court at 1 p.m. on Tuesday next week.