TAMPA — One of the police officials who was supposed to help investigate tax refund fraud instead betrayed fellow officers and stole evidence seized in a crime wave that swamped the city.
A former Tampa police corporal will admit in federal court that she cashed nearly $90,000 of the fraudulent refund checks taken by investigators as evidence, according to a plea agreement filed in U.S. District Court on Thursday.
Jeanette Hevel, who had more than 20 years experience in law enforcement, signed the agreement to plead guilty to a federal charge of theft of government property, a charge that carries up to 10 years in federal prison.
Hevel’s crimes were committed as her fellow officers, incensed to see criminals flagrantly steal from taxpayers and thumb their nose at law enforcement, struggled to crack down on the fraud.
Beginning around 2010, criminals began using stolen personal information to file fraudulent tax returns to con the IRS out of millions of dollars in bogus refunds.
The thieves used stolen birth dates and Social Security numbers of the elderly, the dead and police officers themselves.
Crooks even stole the identity of police officer David Curtis, killed in the line of duty in June 2010, and used his information to file a bogus tax return.
According to Hevel’s plea agreement, Hevel worked in the department’s Criminal Intelligence Bureau and was responsible for reviewing and assigning matters, including identity theft and tax fraud, for investigation.
Starting around September 2011 and continuing through May 2012, Hevel “abused her position and authority” and took seized tax refund checks, her plea agreement says.
As part of this, Hevel accessed the department’s electronic records system, Versadex, which cataloged the refund checks and money orders that had been put in the department’s secure evidence storage. In her position of Criminal Investigation Bureau corporal, Havel took possession of the refund checks and refund orders.
In addition, other detectives sometimes sent the checks directly to Hevel for further investigation.
Hevel used “various strategies” to cash the checks, her plea agreement says. Sometimes she passed them to an unnamed person who enlisted others to cash them in exchange for a fee.
All told, Hevel stole and cashed 13 U.S. Treasury checks worth more than $88,000 over a nine-month period, according to her plea agreement. She split the proceeds with other unnamed scheme participants.
She also cashed 21 money orders worth $10,000 and a $3,000 refund anticipation loan check in her custody in the police department.
Hevel was fired from the department in September 2013. At the time, officials said Hevel was accused of stealing $1,900 worth of tax refund checks in the department’s evidence room.
Hevel’s lawyer, Mark O’Brien, said Hevel accepts “full responsibility for her actions.’’
“For over two decades Ms. Hevel served her community as a police officer with honor, distinction and bravery,” O’Brien said. “A temporary lapse in judgment cost Ms. Hevel her career and now it may cost Ms. Hevel her freedom. She accepts this possibility and only prays that when this time comes she is not judged on a small fraction of her life but rather on the totality of her life.
“While some will revel in a police officer’s fall from grace, we hope that everyone else will wait until all of the facts and circumstances behind her conduct are revealed before passing judgment.”
Police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said Thursday that Chief Jane Castor would have no comment on Hevel’s plea agreement.