The federal government has broken up a fraud ring in which a key figure was a Wells Fargo (WFC) employee who opened accounts for her accomplices.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, local police and agents from the Internal Revenue Service arrested 22 people on Thursday and indicted them on charges that included tax and bank fraud and identity theft. Thirty-three people charged as part of the crime ring remain at large, the agency said.
All together, the defendants stole more than 2,000 identities and attempted to collect more than $20 million in bogus tax refunds, of which the IRS paid out more than $7 million, according to the FBI.
The group deposited the fraudulent refunds into accounts at Wells Fargo and Bank of America, the FBI said. One of the defendants used her position as a Wells Fargo employee to open accounts for the funds and to launder the money, the agency said.
The FBI said that members of the group also stole information and personal data about wealthy Wells Fargo customers, which the defendants then used to impersonate the customers and attempted to withdraw their money. The group tried to withdraw more than $3 million and succeeded in taking more than $500,000.
Another group of defendants stole more than $600,000 from Bank of America by writing bad checks, the FBI said.
"This case is staggering in terms of the number of victims, its level of sophistication, its audacious methods, and the callous disregard for victims," said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy in the news release.
Many of the defendants are citizens of former Soviet states, including Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Of the 33 people under indictment who remain at large, 21 are believed to be living outside the United States.