Five tellers at VyStar Credit Union, a Citibank credit card employee and a hospital worker were among those involved in an ID theft ring that stole the identities of at least 185 people and used their information to file fraudulent tax returns and cash refund checks, according to State Attorney Angela Corey and others involved in the investigation.
The Internal Revenue Service and Secret Service joined the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and the State Attorney's Office in a seven-month investigation they called "Operation Zig-Zag" that led to 17 arrests.
At least 185 identities were stolen, and the information was used to file fraudulent tax returns that amount to over $585,000 in refunds.
"This is one of the largest identity theft case that we've investigated," Corey said. "We found victims who were children; we've found victims who were deceased; we found many living victims."
Investigators identified the ringleader of the scheme as 31-year-old Larry Worth, of Jacksonville. He allegedly conspired with five VyStar tellers to cash the refund checks -- for which they were paid about $1,000 each. The average refund amount was about $7,500.
"It's not somebody cheating on their taxes. This is total theft of government money, taxpayer money," said Secret Service Special Agent Paul Elliot.
The investigation began when VyStar noticed irregularities and contacted authorities. The case led them to victims from Florida, Virginia, New York and New Hampshire.
"We could only have connected all these dots with the help of Baptist hospital, Citibank, VyStar Credit Union," Corey said.
Authorities said they have notified most of the victims whose identities were used in the scheme and are attempting to contact the rest.