Courts & Crime

Feds: Charges in Florida tax-fraud case that will be first of many to come

A Broward County couple was charged Monday with cashing millions of dollars of income-tax refund checks issued by the U.S. government to people under investigation for stealing others’ identities to file alleged fake tax returns.

Wilson Lau and Kate Yuee Lau of Coral Springs were charged with bilking the government in the first of a series of tax-fraud cases expected to be filed in federal court. The husband was also charged with aggravated identity theft.

The Laus, who operated American Quick Cash Depot in Oakland Park, are accused of conspiring to “enrich themselves by charging a fee for fraudulently obtained tax-refund checks’’ bearing forged endorsements, according to the charges. The 75-year-old husband and his 54-year-old wife will be arraigned in Fort Lauderdale federal court Tuesday.

Investigators, led by the Internal Revenue Service and Secret Service, cited two instances last year when the Laus cashed checks — one for $5,415 and another for $9,391 — that “were stolen and bore falsely made and forged endorsements and signatures.”

The forfeiture filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office revealed the magnitude of the couple’s alleged crime: The Laus processed a total of $5.26 million in fraudulently obtained tax-refund checks, according to court documents. It was unclear how much they pocketed in commissions for processing them.

The couple’s attorney, Robert Buschel, could not be reached for comment.

Authorities say identity-theft crimes have soared in the electronic age. Crooks have graduated from everyday credit-card fraud to stealing people’s identities such as Social Security numbers in order to rob taxpayers of refunds before they file their returns with the IRS.

“It is time for tax-refund scammers to realize that we will not allow them to steal taxpayers’ hard-earned money,” U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said. “Today’s charges are just the beginning.”

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