Local News

VA worker convicted of stealing vets' identities

Posted February 9, 2011 5:40 p.m. EST

— A federal court jury on Tuesday found a Department of Veterans Affairs worker guilty of stealing personal information from disabled North Carolina veterans to generate bogus tax returns.

Michael Ray Woods, 47, of Fayetteville, was convicted on 12 counts of preparing false tax returns, 10 counts of wire fraud, 10 counts of identity theft and two counts of aggravated identity theft.

Working out of his home, Woods transferred patient data from VA hospitals in North Carolina and Virginia to a computer in Richmond, Va., prosecutors said.

At the same time, Woods ran a tax return preparation business out of his home, and he often submitted phony returns for customers in exchange for fees, prosecutors said. Evidence presented at trial showed that his business grew by word of mouth, and by 2007, he was filing more than 800 returns annually and pocketing $150,000 in fees.

Woods used the names, birth dates and Social Security numbers of VA patients to create fake dependents on people's returns so they could qualify for larger sums under the Earned Income Tax Credit, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said choosing disabled veterans improved Woods' odds that the identity theft would go undetected because they were less likely to have taxable income and use their own identities to file tax returns.

U.S. Attorney George Holding called Woods' actions "a shocking abuse of trust."

Woods was immediately taken into federal custody. He will be sentenced in May, when he faces up to 390 years in prison.