Searching for a tangled case of identity theft by illegal immigrants? Here is one involving a woman citizen on workers comp whose identity was used by an illegal worker, who at the same time was receiving benefits of a work injury at another employer. This citizen’s husband’s identity also was stolen and that mixed him up with traffic violations incurred by the impersonator. In this article there is an unrelated third story of identity theft involving a woman on disability. The two women’s cases are linked to an employer, Koch Foods, which had hired the illegal workers and who was uncooperative in helping untangle the messes.
The story in full, from the Citizen Tribune of Morristown, TN:
Newport couple faces taxes on income never earned
BY ROBERT MOORE, Tribune Staff Writer
For Lora and Jamey Costner, a $7,854 federal income tax bill is the painful indigestion that followed two unsatisfying servings of identity theft cooked up by two former Koch Foods employees, records indicate.
The criminal cases involving the Newport married couple and the two illegal immigrants, who IRS records indicate worked for Koch Foods, have been resolved in the court system.
The bitter aftertaste that remains is the unpalatable possibility of having their wages garnished to pay tax bills on income they never earned at the Morristown chicken-processing plant.
“The overall burden of it all is crushing us, please help,” the Costners wrote in an appeal to U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. “We have done all we know to do.”
Mrs. Costner says she realized the magnitude of the problem in July when the IRS informed her that she and her husband failed to report approximately $30,000 in income they earned at Koch Foods during 2005.
The Costners say it’s easy to prove they both worked at Wallace Hardware in Morristown during 2005. Relatedly, Mrs. Costner maintains it’s child’s play to prove they never worked at Koch Foods during that year.
Tim Steffin, Koch Foods human resources manager, did not return a telephone call to comment on the identity-theft cases this morning.
Mrs. Costner says the first indication that something might go badly in July came five months earlier in February when she was out of work due to an on-the-job injury.
Mrs. Costner says state labor officials told her she should not be drawing workers compensation benefits through Wallace Hardware because she had returned to work at Koch Foods the previous month following another on-the-job injury.
Records indicate that someone using her maiden name — Hale — and her Social Security number had fallen off a production line at the Koch Foods deboning plant in the East Tennessee Progress Center, according to the Newport woman.
“I’ve never deboned a chicken in my life,” she said Wednesday afternoon.
The foreshadowing for Mr. Costner materialized in April 2006 when learned that he was in danger of losing his driver’s license because of unpaid citations for speeding and driving without insurance.
The traffic stop came at 3 o’clock in the morning while Mr. Costner was asleep. Also, the driver reportedly did not speak English.
Police identified Mrs. Costner’s impersonator as Elizabeth Velasco Bautista, who later pleaded guilty to criminal impersonation, according to Detective Bob Ellis with the Morristown Police Department.
The interloper in Mr. Costner’s life was Douglas Valdez, according to Ellis. Ellis says Valdez avoided the identity-theft charge because a judge ruled that it was not a crime to use someone’s identity to obtain employment.
Valdez reportedly served 45 days on other charges. Mrs. Costner says her sister lived with Valdez at one time, and she’s convinced that’s how their identities were stolen.
Mrs. Costner says when she discovered her identity-theft trail appeared to lead to Koch Foods, she contacted the Koch Foods human resources manager.
She alleges that Steffin was uncooperative and indicated he could not verify whether or not the Lora Hale that was working at Koch Foods had assumed her identity.
In a matter of minutes, the MPD detective conclusively determined that the woman who was working under the name Lora Hale at Koch Foods was actually Elizabeth Velasco Bautista.
The response that Mrs. Costner alleges she received from Steffin is similar to the treatment described by Julie Wheeler, a Maine woman whose identity was stolen when she lived in Morristown.
Detective Sgt. Randall Noe arrested a 27-year-old Koch Foods employee named Lucia Perez last week and charged her with identity theft in connection with the Wheeler case.
Wheeler alleges Steffin was reluctant to act on her complaint. She was in peril of having to repay $14,000 in disability benefits because IRS records showed she had been working at Koch Foods for the past two years.
Wheeler maintains she was living in Maine for the past two years. Wheeler says she’s sorting out the problems involving her disability payments.
The Costners remain in IRS legal limbo. The agency hasn’t begun garnishing their wages, but Mrs. Costner says she fears that could begin any day.
What’s more, the Costner’s $7,854 IRS bill is for the 2005 calendar year. Mrs. Costner says she believes it’s only a matter of time until they receive a delinquent tax notice for the time the two imposters worked at Koch Foods during 2006.
Ellis wrote a letter on the Costners behalf, attempting to resolve the identity-theft morass, but the correspondence didn’t bring immediate results.
Wednesday afternoon, Paul Chapman, a field representative for U.S. Rep. David Davis, R-Tenn., said he would intervene on the Costner’s behalf.
Chapman says he’s been successful in the past resolving issues with the IRS in cases where it’s clear that an error had been made.