“It’s déjà vu all over again” — noted infosecurity expert Yogi Berra.
Veronico Niko, a former Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services employee, has pleaded guilty to stealing names and Social Security numbers for use in a tax refund fraud scheme.
Niko, her husband Thomas Marshall, Michael Williams, Mao Niko, and Mike Niko were indicted in January 2012; two of the other four defendants, including her husband, have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentences, while two others are awaiting trial.
According to court documents, Veronica Niko had access to the department’s LEADER computer system, which, as a receptionist, she was authorized to use to input applicants’ information for assistance requests. What she did, however, beginning in July 2009, was to access the system, take screenshots of applicants’ PII, and print out the screenshots for her husband, Thomas Marshall, who used the information to submit fraudulent tax returns. During a search of her residence, IRS agents found 44 pages of screen prints associated with 132 current and former assistance participants. In total, the PII of 64 unique individuals was misused to file 65 fraudulent tax returns through tax year 2011, costing the IRS $357,704.90.
Niko is not the first to misuse the L.A. County DPSS system for a tax refund fraud scheme. In February 2011, former social worker Trang Van Dinh pleaded guilty to misusing his position to obtain applicants’ names and Social Security numbers to file fraudulent tax returns. The 197 returns filed by Dinh sought refunds totaling $2,212,996, and the IRS issued refund checks totaling $1,156,374.