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Three in custody after alleged theft of over $850K stemming from tax returns

Published: Oct. 29, 2021 at 2:14 PM EDT
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HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - Three people are now behind bars after federal investigators say they were involved in a complex fraud scheme based out of the Myrtle Beach area.

According to a criminal complaint unsealed this week, federal agents from the IRS-Criminal Investigation branch and the Office of the Inspector General have been investigating, with the IRS ultimately filing for arrest warrants to charge Ivo Krasimirov Ivanov, Donna Karakatsani, and Todor Milkov Stoenchev with theft of public funds and wire fraud.

According to the complaint, the IRS-CI received an incident report from the Horry County Police Department in April 2020.

The report was filed by a Bulgarian individual, who alleged that Ivanov had filed a fake Form 1040 using their person information. The complainant alleged that there were “a couple of hundred students” who were victim to fraud and identity theft by Ivanov. The tax refund and coronavirus stimulus payment were then direct deposited into a Wells Fargo bank account.

According to the complaint, the incident report went on to say these students were foreign J-1 students, but that Ivanov allegedly filed tax returns in their names as if they were United States citizens.

Law enforcement from Bulgaria also reported to federal investigators they had received multiple reports related to 33 complainants alleging tax fraud and identity theft. The officers told the IRS-CI that these complainants had communicated with Ivanov and his mother on Facebook underneath the label of a tax preparation service.

The complainants also provided their W-2 forms and passport/visa information for help with their tax returns. They ultimately selected other companies to handle their tax returns, the complaint says. But that’s when they were told their return had already been filed without their knowledge, and some of the complainants learned that their refunds were sent to Myrtle Beach.

The complaint says IRS analysis found that one IP address filed 189 suspicious tax returns in the last two years, which investigators say belonged to Karakatsani. In addition, 543 suspicious tax returns also listed a Myrtle Beach PO Box as their address, which was found to be rented by her as well.

Suspicious tax returns, 174 in total, were also filed under a PO Box being rented by Ivanov, according to investigators. Ivanov and Karakatsani live at the same address in Myrtle Beach, which Stoenchev resided at as well until June 2021.

The complaint goes on to say that at least 68 accounts held at 16 different banks in the names of 14 individuals were used to receive both IRS refunds and Economic Impact Payments. From February 2019 to January 2021, more than $530,000 were deposited into these accounts, according to investigators.

A total of more than $322,000 of tax refunds and stimulus checks were also deposited into the personal bank accounts of all three suspects, investigators said.

Seven Bulgarian witnesses were interviewed, who had traveled to the United States under a visa program, after giving Ivanov varying degrees of personal information to help calculate and/or file their income tax refund. None received these returns, nor the COVID relief payments issued in their names, according to federal investigators.

Investigators were able to review some of Ivanov’s Facebook activity to corroborate the statements. Ivanov used the social media platform to advertise his tax preparation service, investigators said.

They say it also showed communication between the other two suspects, as well as other unnamed co-conspirators, regarding deposits of tax refunds in other people’s names, as well opening bank accounts for the purpose of receiving fraudulent claims.

Arrest warrants were issued for all three suspects. Ivanov, Karakatsani, and Stoenchev were taken into custody Wednesday and are being held at the J. Reuben Long Detention Center.

Federal court documents say a preliminary hearing is scheduled for Nov. 1, with Ivanov and Stoenchev expected to join via video teleconference and Karakatsani in person.

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