CAMDEN, N.J. – A former U.S. Postal employee from Burlington County, New Jersey, today admitted his role in a conspiracy to steal income tax refund checks from the U.S. Mail, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
Earl Champagne, 47, of Willingboro, New Jersey, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Robert B. Kugler in Camden federal court to an information charging him with one count of theft of U.S. Mail and one count of theft of government money.
Stolen Identity Refund Fraud
Stolen Identity Refund Fraud (SIRF) is a common type of fraud committed against the United States government that results in more than $2 billion in losses annually to the Treasury. SIRF schemes generally share a number of hallmarks:
- SIRF perpetrators obtain personal identifying information, including Social Security numbers and dates of birth, from unwitting individuals, who often reside in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
- Participants complete Individual Income Tax Return 1040 Forms using the fraudulently obtained information, falsifying wages earned, taxes withheld and other data and always ensuring the fraudulent form generates a tax refund check from the U.S. Treasury.
- They direct the U.S. Treasury Department to mail the fraudulently obtained checks to locations the perpetrators control or can access. In some cases, SIRF perpetrators bribe mail carriers to remove the checks from their mail routes.
- With the checks in hand, they generate cash proceeds by depositing the Treasury checks into bank accounts that they control.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
From 1995 to November 2014, Champagne was employed by the U.S. Postal Service as a mail carrier. He was required to deliver mail that had been placed in the mail stream for delivery and was assigned to deliver mail to locations in Pennsauken, New Jersey.
Champagne admitted that from March 2014 to July 2014 he stole U.S. Treasury Checks from the mail and gave them to others. He said he was approached by two individuals who asked him to retrieve checks from the mail with the promise that he would be paid. The individuals told Champagne that the checks were IRS checks and that they would mostly be addressed to individuals with “Spanish” names. The individuals expected to either pick up the checks from Champagne or for him to notify them that the checks were in the mailbox so that they could retrieve the checks themselves. For this service, Champagne was paid $50 per check for every check stolen from the mail. Champagne admitted that he stole 72 U.S. checks totaling $442,776.
The theft of U.S. Mail and theft of government money charges to which Champagne pleaded guilty each carry a maximum potential penalty of 15 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. Champagne’s sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 3, 2016.
U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the IRS-Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Jonathan Larsen, and U.S. Postal Service, Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Monica Weyler, with the investigation leading to today’s guilty plea.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason M. Richardson of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Division in Camden.
Defense counsel: Michael Riley Esq., Mount Holly, New Jersey