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7 named in inmate tax filing scheme

The IRS says they used prisoners' identities to collect nearly $1-million.

Published July 28, 2006

TAMPA - A federal grand jury in Tampa indicted seven people Thursday on charges of filing fraudulent income tax returns using inmate identities and getting back nearly $1-million in illegal tax refunds.

Daniel Goodheart, 36, a former psychiatric counselor for the Okeechobee Correctional Institution, and Frankie Jackson, 32, a former corrections officer there, were among those who IRS investigators say retrieved inmates' names and Social Security numbers from the Florida Department of Corrections intranet, then used them to prepare false income tax documents for inmates at nine Florida prisons.

They are accused of working with John Palmer, 46, an inmate at the time, who prosecutors believe also conspired with four other acquaintances and inmates.

In all, the scheme generated U.S. Treasury checks totaling $902,487 for the conspirators, according to IRS special agent Norm Meadows. The checks were processed at several banks throughout the state, including some in St. Petersburg.

Florida law enforcement records indicate Palmer at one time worked as a carpenter in Pinellas Park.

One of the four acquaintances prosecutors say was involved, Vallis Ann Sprenkle, 45, appears to have lived in St. Petersburg recently, where public records indicate she was employed as a hairdresser.

Five similar cases have popped up across Florida in the last year, Meadows said.

"The prosecution of income tax refund crimes committed by prison inmates is important," wrote IRS special agent Michael Yasofsky Jr.

"Not only do these individuals seek to violate the tax laws for their own benefit, but inmates who file false returns are almost always assisted by someone in an official capacity or the general public."

Goodheart was employed with the prison system through Wexford Health Associates, the IRS said.

Other individuals who were indicted, described as acquaintances of Palmer or other conspiring inmates, were: Debra Robinson, 43, Tammi Sailem (a.k.a. Tammi Austin), 37, and Tammy Hutchinson, 36.

Robby Cunningham, spokesman for the Department of Corrections, said Jackson was terminated from his position in June of last year and is currently incarcerated on other charges. "If anybody is caught breaking the law in our ranks, they will be dealt with swiftly and sternly," Cunningham said.

The Florida Department of Corrections has been stung by a series of scandals in the past year, including allegations of corruption.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

[Last modified July 28, 2006, 01:40:45]

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