A former D.C. juvenile justice worker pleaded guilty Tuesday to helping steal at least $2 million in fraudulent federal income tax refunds by giving personal information about hundreds of youth offenders to an identity-theft ring operating out of the District and suburban Maryland.
Marc A. Bell, 49, of Bowie, Md., worked from 2005 to 2013 at the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, where he became a key source for an ID-theft ring led by the owner of a Southeast Washington barbershop.
Kevin Brown, 45, a resident of Capitol Heights, Md., and owner of Classic Kutz, pleaded guilty in 2013 to helping lead and organize what prosecutors say in court records was a network of more than 130 participants who filed more than 12,000 bogus federal income tax returns claiming refunds of more than $42 million.
As part of a plea deal, Bell admitting stealing personal information from at least 645 young people under court supervision and giving it to Brown’s network, which used the names and Social Security numbers to claim $4.4 million through at least 1,160 faked tax refund requests.
The Internal Revenue Service ultimately issued $2.4 million in U.S. Treasury checks to the named individuals in the youth services segment of the fraud.
Bell agreed to repay nearly $2 million to the IRS and became the latest of about 15 individuals to plead guilty, according to U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips for the District and Justice Department and Internal Revenue Service officials.
“Mr. Bell was a public servant who was trusted to serve the taxpayers of the District of Columbia,” said Thomas Jankowski, special agent in charge of the IRS’s Washington field office. “Aside from the terrible harm done to the Government . . ., Mr. Bell has caused immeasurable harm to the financial well-being of the youth whose identities he stole.”
Bell’s attorney, Bernard S. Grimm, declined to comment.
In 2001, The Washington Post profiled Bell, then 34 and the director of a District-funded program by the nonprofit Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice to keep youths out of jail. Prosecutors confirm that Bell, who until Wednesday was employed by the D.C. Department of Human Resources, is the same person as appeared in the profile.
Christina Harper, a spokeswoman for District Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, said in an email Thursday that as of Jan. 6 “Mr. Bell is no longer employed with District Government and will not be considered for rehire.” She said personnel rules prevented her from disclosing under what terms he left his position.
The Post reported in 2001 that Bell grew up in Southeast Washington, overcame a drug charge as a juvenile and earned degrees from Morgan State University and the University of Maryland before returning to help young people in trouble. His mentoring program pulled more than 700 youths facing criminal charges out of detention and kept 85 percent of them from violating the terms of their release, The Post reported.
Bell pleaded guilty Tuesday to three counts of identity theft, fraud and conspiracy to defraud the government. He faces sentencing April 20 before U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle in the District.
The ID-theft charges carry a statutory maximum of 15 years in prison. But prosecutors, as part of the deal, said a prison term of 57 to 71 months could be appropriate, although the guideline is nonbinding on the judge and could change if new information emerges, among other things.
The fraud ring was exposed as the U.S. government launched a crackdown in 2012 against stolen-identity refund fraud, which officials said had become a rampant problem. Investigations have netted barbers, postal workers, check cashers and police, who claimed fake earned-income tax refunds, often by using the identities of people such as drug addicts, prisoners and those in nursing homes.
The office of the Treasury inspector general for tax administration found that $3.6 billion in potentially fraudulent tax refunds were issued for tax year 2011.