Check casher sentenced to prison for cashing fraudulently obtained tax refund checks

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WASHINGTON – A Columbus, Georgia resident was sentenced to 18 months in prison Tuesday for his role in a stolen identity refund fraud scheme.

According to documents filed with the court 61-year-old George Rowell owned and operated Big O’s Package Store in Columbus, which offered check-cashing services.  Between February 2012 and March 2013, federal agents approached Rowell about cashing fraudulently obtained refund checks for people whose names did not appear on the checks.

Despite being warned, Rowell cashed checks in bulk for several co-conspirators even though the checks were not in their names. Rowell also allowed at least one co-conspirator to forge in front of him the signature of the taxpayers to whom the checks were made payable. Rowell charged his co-conspirators a 10 percent fee and in 2013 cashed over 250 refund checks worth more than $645,000.

In addition to the term of prison imposed, Rowell was ordered to serve three years of supervised release and to pay restitution to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the amount of $645,343.03. Rowell pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit theft of public money in August 2016.

Rowell’s co-conspirators previously pleaded guilty and were sentenced to prison. In Dec. 2016, Tonya Alexander was sentenced to serve 37 months in prison. In September 2015, Keisha Lanier was sentenced to serve 15 years in prison.  In August 2015, Tracy Mitchell was sentenced to serve 13 years and 3 months in prison.

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