TAMPA — A volunteer at the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital has been accused of stealing patients’ identities and using that information to file fake income tax refunds of about $550,000, according to federal court documents.
Ricardo Jacinto Rodriguez, the VA volunteer, and Andropolis Jioberiti Mitchell were indicted last week on charges of embezzlement and fraud.
The scheme began on Jan. 25, 2012, when Rodriguez stole about 100 patients’ names and Social Security numbers from the official records of the VA hospital in Tampa, court documents said.
Rodriguez gave the patients’ information to Mitchell, who prepared and electronically submitted fraudulent income tax returns, authorities said. Rodriguez and Mitchell then used pre-paid debit cards, loaded with the illegally obtained tax refunds, to buy merchandise and make ATM withdrawals in Tampa and north Florida, according to court records.
Rodriguez was a volunteer at the hospital from Oct. 11, 2011, to Nov. 28, 2012, hospital spokeswoman Karen Collins said. He served as a patient escort and made phone calls to patients reminding them of upcoming appointments.
The veterans hospital has notified 106 patients whose personal information Rodriguez is believed to have stolen, Collins said.
The hospital is working with the IRS and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General “to proactively identify any other potential victims from this or any other incidents,” Collins said. “If patients believe their information has been compromised, they should contact the IRS.”
Collins said the hospital has created a task force to help identify safeguards and vulnerabilities when it comes to protecting patients’ private information. “All staff and volunteers are required to complete annual privacy training and must agree to protect patients’ health and personally identifiable information,” she said.
Rodriguez’s case is one example of a tax fraud epidemic rampant in the Tampa area. Investigators said patient information -- often taken from medical facilities and companies that perform credit checks -- has fueled the explosion in tax fraud.
In 2011, Tampa police arrested suspected drug dealers who had medical records from the VA. In 2012, police arrested suspects during a traffic stop and found preloaded TurboTax debit card and medical records from a local endoscopy practice in the vehicle.
News Channel 8 reporter Lauren Mayk contributed to this report.