CHICAGO - A Chicago woman has been charged with taking advantage of two crises facing the city — the pandemic and its surging homicide count — to defraud the government out of thousands of dollars in tax refunds and coronavirus stimulus payments.
Katrina Pierce faces federal charges of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, according to a criminal complaint made public Thursday. A judge ordered Pierce, who was sent to prison for a similar scheme nine years ago, to remain locked up pending trial. Her next hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.
According to prosecutors, Pierce obtained the death certificates for dozens of young homicide victims and used them to collect thousands of dollars in payments, the Chicago Tribune reported.
An investigation into Pierce began in late 2019 when a Cook County Vital Records Bureau employee noticed that on the same day, Pierce requested death certificates for four people who had different last names, claiming to be a sister of all of them.
A check of the bureau’s database revealed that she had requested 37 death certificates that year and succeeded in getting 26 of them, prosecutors allege. Among the ones she got was that of 7-year-old Amari Brown, who was fatally shot in 2015. According to the criminal complaint, Pierce was able to collect a $4,400 federal tax refund claiming to be the boy’s aunt.
Prosecutors also allege that Pierce filed a tax return for a St. Louis man declaring an income of $1 despite the fact that the man had been shot to death more than a year earlier. That netted her about $4,400 in coronavirus stimulus payments from the Internal Revenue Service.
According to the complaint, the IRS received a tax return for "Rajona Pierce." That was an alias that Pierce had used in the criminal case that ended with her convicted of stealing more than $200,000 in federal tax and state child care benefits and being sentenced to 11 years in federal prison in 2012.
According to the complaint, in that return, Rajona Pierce reported $1 in income for a beauty salon that didn’t exist at an address that turned out to be a long-demolished public housing project on the city’s South Side.
Investigators also found that Rajona Pierce received a total of $3,200 in stimulus payments, according to the complaint and they suspect that Pierce "used multiple banks and accounts in an effort to hide or to launder the proceeds of her various schemes"," according to the complaint.
The complaint does not include an exact amount of money that Pierce allegedly made off with, but it makes clear that the total was in the tens of thousands of dollars. For example, it points out that Pierce deposited nearly $84,000 into a bank account during the last six months of 2020 even though she declared that she earned less than half of that amount on her income tax return for that entire year. This, the complaint contends, "suggests that Pierce may have an illicit source or sources of income that she wishes to conceal."