Four Lincoln County residents, including three from Lincolnton and one from Vale, were sentenced Wednesday to at least a year behind bars for defrauding the government by obtaining false tax refunds in a scheme that began in early 2010.
According to a press release from the U.S. Attorneyâ€™s Office in the stateâ€™s western district, each offender pled guilty in July and August to false claims conspiracy.
Federal indictments were handed down against the defendants a year ago this month, the release said.
Dania Ramos, 36, of Lincolnton, will spend four years in prison followed by 37 months for 29-year-old Vale resident Jose de Jesus (a.k.a. Jose Ramos), 18 months for 34-year-old Lincolnton resident Xiomara Amparo and a year for Mildred DePena, 49, also of Lincolnton.
Authorities said the suspects used stolen Puerto Rican names and Social Security numbers to file false tax returns seeking funds of more than $5Â million between 2010 and February 2011, the same month that five of the defendants were apprehended.
The Lincoln County residents were arrested exactly one week after a federal criminal complaint was filed against them, according to a previous Times-News article.
Three other individuals were also involved in the tax scheme, authorities said, including Nelson Jimenez, 51, of Lincolnton, who has since posted bond, and 31-year-old Lincolnton resident Arileyda Amparo.
Both Jimenez and Amparo have also pled guilty to false claims conspiracy and are awaiting sentencing.
Authorities remain on the hunt for a final defendant, 22-year-old Hickory resident Johan Vargas.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons will soon receive Jose de Jesus while the remaining three defendants whoâ€™ve been sentenced in the case will be placed behind bars at a later date, authorities said.
The United States Postal Inspection Service along with the United States Secret Service and Internal Revenue Servicesâ€™ Criminal Investigation Division each investigated the fraudulent acts.
Asst. U.S. Attorney Jenny Grus Sugar of the Charlotte U.S. Attorneyâ€™s Office is serving as the caseâ€™s lead prosecutor.