By Francisco Alvarado
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Court documents in a federal criminal case against two Miami crack cocaine kingpins reveal how easy it is to get into Florida’s booming tax refund theft racket.
One of the drug dealers, Espere Desmond Pierre, pleaded guilty to drug trafficking, firearm possession, wire fraud conspiracy, and aggravated identity theft charges on Aug. 18. Last month, a jury found his partner, Markentz Blanc, guilty on similar charges. He was sentenced to 300 months in federal prison. Pierre’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for November.
Pierre and Blanc, along with six underlings, were indicted in 2014 following a two-year FBI probe into their drug trafficking network that distributed crack cocaine throughout Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood. Federal prosecutors alleged that the pair also diversified their illicit business portfolio by stealing people’s identities in order to collect fraudulent tax refunds from the Internal Revenue Service.
According to the criminal complaint, during a November 2013 raid on Blanc’s house, investigators confiscated approximately 56 grams of crack, 22 grams of marijuana, a stolen firearm, $9,000, and numerous documents and financial instruments related to identity theft and tax fraud, including information on hundreds of people with no apparent relation or connection to Blanc.
In recent years, Florida has become ground zero for tax return fraud, and no one is safe, not even the nation’s top law enforcement officials. Two former attorneys general, Janet Reno and Eric Holder, have both been victims of tax fraud in South Florida, according to a February Miami Herald report.
The Federal Trade Commission’s 2014 Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book shows that Florida holds the highest per capita statewide rate of identity theft complaints at 192.9 per 100,000, topping the nation’s most populous states, California and Texas. Six of the country’s 10 metro areas with the highest rates of identity theft are in Florida. South Florida ranks number one, with a rate almost four times the national average.
Typically, identity thieves buy personal data from individuals who pilfer personal information about customers from their workplaces, such as a doctor’s office. Or they have direct access to people’s personal information via government sources.
Blanc and Pierre employed a much simpler method. They signed up for online services that compile personal information on just about anyone living or dead.
Transcripts of text messages and phone calls between Blanc and Pierre, obtained through a court-approved wiretaps, detail exactly how they obtained names, along with birth dates and Social Security numbers, on the Internet.
According to a text exchange between the two on June 6, 2013, Blanc informed Pierre that another unidentified identity thief used a website called www.findmypast.com to look up people’s information.
Pierre: “Dam how he doin it now?”
Blanc: “Da site he paid 4.”
Pierre: “Ask him da name.”
Pierre: “How he get da SSN and bday?”
Blanc: “He paid 4 da service.”
A few minutes later, during a wiretapped phone call, Blanc gave Pierre step-by-step instructions on how to search for personal records on the website.
Blanc: “You see up top it say home, tree, search records?”
Blanc: “You got to search all records.”
Pierre: “Uh huh.”
Blanc: “You right click it. Now click, who, when and where right?”
Blanc: “It give you the whole thing?”
Pierre: “Yeah, I got the name, the birth date, the year of death. I got all that. The SS, all that. I got it.”
Findmypast.com is a subsidiary of DC Thomson, a British publishing company based in Scotland that also produces such newspapers as the Evening Telegraph, the Sunday Post, and The Courier, as well as several magazine and comic book titles. Findmypast.com boasts that its searchable online archive contains more than 2 billion family history records, from parish records and censuses to migration records, military collections, historical newspapers and more. The Florida Center for Investigative Reporting contacted a company spokesman for comment and will update this post ifDC Thomson responds.