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Rhashema Deramus, 23, of Montgomery, Ala., was sentenced yesterday to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay $1,198,063 in restitution for her involvement in an identity theft and tax refund scam.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Deramus was the ringleader of a group of individuals who stole people's names, birthdates and Social Security numbers, including 881 identities that were stolen from Alabama's Troy Regional Medical Center. Deramus then used that stolen data to file fraudulent tax returns, directing tax refunds to be placed on pre-paid debit cards, which she and others cashed out at ATMs.
Deramus was caught in 2011 when law enforcement agents identified a vehicle being used in a series of suspicious withdrawals from ATMs.
When officers stopped the car, they found Deramus and two co-conspirators in possession of 165 pre-paid debit cards issued in other people's names, as well as a computer containing stolen personal information. After obtaining a search warrant for Deramus' home, agents found 276 more debit cards, along with computers and thousand of pieces of stolen personal information.
The ring was ultimately found to be in possession of a minimum of 520 pre-paid debit cards containing $1,198,063 in fraudulently-obtained tax refunds, and more than 7,000 individuals' stolen personal information.
Deramus pled guilty on August 29, 2012 to theft of government money, fraudulent use of debit cards, and aggravated identity theft in relation to the filing of fraudulent tax returns.
At the sentencing hearing, one of Deramus' victims testified that he lost his six-figure defense contracting job when his security clearance was suspended due to Deramus' theft and misuse of his personal information. His wife was forced to quit nursing school as a result, and he now works at a fast food restaurant and teaches computer classes part-time.
"Deramus was the mastermind behind this scheme which not only costs the U.S. Government, but also local retailers and business who negotiated the fraudulently obtained checks, over 1.5 million dollars," Clay Slay, resident agent in charge of the U.S. Secret Service in Montgomery, Ala., said in a statement. "The biggest tragedy though are the approximately 7,000 victims whose lives have been turned upside down through the theft of their personal identifiers and the effect it has on their credit history and ability to file a legitimate tax return. Hopefully, the sentencing of Deramus and other defendants in this case will serve as a warning sign to other individuals involved in any type of identity theft."