(Memphis) You’ve heard the old saying about death and taxes being the only constants in life. Those two words were front and center in a federal courtroom in Memphis Tuesday.
A local woman admitted to stealing identities of dozens of people, including some who are dead, then filing tax returns in their names.
As if using the names of dead people isn’t bad enough, how about stealing the identities of young children?
WREG learned the average consumer’s personal information could also be at risk, because the defendants found their information through a simple online search.
Cheryl Wright was silent while walking out of the courthouse, but the indictment speaks volumes about what she did.
Wright admitted to filing false income tax returns and claiming the refunds.
She and co-defendant Nakita Brooks, who already pleaded guilty, stole dozens of identities to create the returns, and even used the names and social security numbers of dead people.
According to court documents, the duo raked in more than $460,000 in the scheme.
Wright pleaded guilty to one count; the other two will be dismissed.
Her attorney, Arthur Horne told WREG, “We just felt like it was in her best interest to enter into a guilty plea based on the evidence, and the facts and the evidence they had against my client.”
That evidence revealed Wright and Brooks set up two fake tax companies to route the returns through, then deposited refunds into their bank accounts.
According to prosecutors, they even stole the identity and used the name of a 9-year-old girl as a preparer for one of the companies.
The government says over a two-year period, the defendants filed more than 650 false claims.
The On Your Side Investigators also learned the women gathered much of their information to steal identities from online genealogy websites.
WREG asked Horne, “It seems pretty harsh if you’re willing to steal the identities of dead people and a child who doesn’t live here. Did she indicate that she feels sorry about doing that?”
He replied, “She is, she’s very sorry and I think at the time of sentencing she’ll have some words for the court and words for the community about the case.”
Wright’s sentencing is set for late July. She faces up to ten years in prison.
Brooks also faces sentencing this summer.
Interestingly enough, court records show while committing these crimes, Brooks was out on bond after already facing similar, federal charges.
She was sentenced in that case in 2011 to nine years in prison.
WREG also did some digging to find out how these women could have accessed information through genealogy sites.
We wanted to know if your personal information is at risk when conducting research on family history.
The On Your Side Investigators reached out to the owners of several genealogy websites.
A spokesperson from Ancestry.com says their company is “very thoughtful and conservative” when choosing what information to post.
He added their sites have protocols to protect information of recently deceased individuals.