Crime

Social worker pleads guilty to identity theft

By Edwin Folven, 2/14/2013

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A former employee with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) has pleaded guilty to an identity theft violation, and admitted that identities she stole from the county were used to file fraudulent tax returns in the names of 64 people. The fraud resulted in a loss to the Internal Revenue Service of more than $357,000.

The defendant, Veronica Niko, 36, pleaded guilty on Jan. 28 to one count of transfer of identification to commit an unlawful activity. Niko is scheduled to return to U.S. District Court for a sentencing hearing on June 10, at which time she will face a statutory maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison.

Niko used her position to obtain the names and Social Security Numbers that were used to file the fraudulent tax returns. As a receptionist for DPPS, Niko was a contact person for individuals coming into the office to apply for aid, and had access to the names and Social Security Numbers of a large number of people who applied for or received certain types of State-administered public assistance.

In a plea agreement filed in federal court, Niko admitted that she provided the personal information of various individuals applying for aid to her husband, co-defendant Thomas Marshall, 37, who has previously admitted his role in the conspiracy to submit false claims for tax refunds to the IRS. Niko further admitted that she knew that Marshall intended to use the information for fraudulent purposes. Four other defendants were charged in the scheme. Marshall pleaded guilty in November to conspiracy to submit false claims to the IRS, and is scheduled to be sentenced on March 18. Mao Niko, 40, pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to submit false claims to the IRS and is scheduled to be sentenced on April 29. The two remaining defendants are facing charges of conspiracy to submit false claims to the IRS, are scheduled to go to trial on April 16.

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