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Man uses IDs from dead people to collect millions from IRS

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A Barbados national who stole the identities of hundreds of dead people in a scheme to collect more than $120 million in bogus tax refunds from the U.S. government was sentenced in federal court on Wednesday to 9-1/2 years in prison.

Andrew Watts, 35, pleaded guilty in July to one count of mail fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.

Prosecutors said Watts, a Barbados national who was in the United States legally, used the stolen identities to file 645 false federal tax returns between 2007 and 2011 and to claim more than $120 million in tax refunds.

Watts received more than $19 million in refund checks from the U.S. Treasury before the Internal Revenue Service discovered the scam.

The vast majority of the money was frozen in various accounts Watts controlled before he could spend it. But according to court documents, Watts used more than $1.6 million in refunds to rent apartments in New York, Beverly Hills and Chicago, buy a Mercedes Benz SUV and jewelry, provide cash to his girlfriend, and jet back and forth from California to New York.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Joan Gottschall sentenced Watts to 7-1/2 years in prison for mail fraud and two years in prison for aggravated identity theft.

Gottschall also ordered Watts to pay nearly $1.7 million in restitution.

The case is USA v. Watts, 11-CR-00231, U.S. District Court Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division.

(Reporting by James B. Kelleher; Editing by Greg McCune and Leslie Adler)

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