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2 months ago

Dothan, Alex City PD help take down $12 million identity theft, tax fraud racket

Two Alabama police departments aided in the investigation of a “sophisticated” identity theft and tax fraud scheme, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ).

In a press release on Tuesday, the DOJ announced that a federal grand jury sitting in St. Louis returned an indictment, which was unsealed on Monday, against a Missouri resident for his role in filing fraudulent tax refunds using other individuals’ stolen identities.

The information released on the indictment was mostly technical in nature, revealing a complex racket spanning at least four states – Alabama, Missouri, Utah and Nevada. Babatunde Olusegun Taiwo is charged with conspiracy to file false claims, mail fraud, wire fraud, access device fraud and aggravated identity theft.

The DOJ specifically praised the work of the Dothan Police Department and the Alexander City Police Department for their investigative work to make the indictment possible. The department also highlighted the United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Alabama, which is based in Montgomery, for their work in helping prosecute the case.

To carry out the scheme, Taiwo “and others” allegedly obtained the payroll information of employees of various public school systems by accessing (without authorization) a payroll company database. Taiwo and the unnamed accomplices also allegedly obtained IRS Forms W-2 of various companies through the use of business email schemes.

To conceal their involvement, Taiwo and his co-conspirators allegedly obtained and used without authorization several Electronic Filing Identification Numbers issued in the names of tax preparation businesses. The indictment charges that Taiwo then arranged for mail forwarding services to be set up in the names of those tax preparers in various cities across the United States to be sent to an accomplice’s residence in St. Louis.

Taiwo and his co-conspirators allegedly used the school employee payroll information they illegally obtained to file fraudulent tax returns and computer software to mask the location of where the returns were filed. As charged in the indictment, over 2,000 fraudulent tax returns claiming more than $12 million in tax refunds from the IRS were filed through the scheme.

If convicted, Taiwo faces a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for the conspiracy to file false claims count, 20 years in prison for each count of wire and mail fraud, 15 years for each count of access device fraud and a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison for the aggravated identity theft. The defendant also faces substantial monetary penalties, supervised release, restitution and forfeiture.

Special agents of the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Postal Inspection Service also investigated this case.

The release noted that, “An indictment merely alleges that crimes have been committed. The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

19 mins ago

Roby: ‘I will continue to use my position in Congress to be a vocal advocate for the unborn’

In an appearance Friday on Huntsville’s WVNN, Rep. Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) recognized participants in Friday’s March for Life event in Washington, D.C. marking 46 years since the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its ruling effectively legalizing abortion.

Roby pledged to use her position as a member of Congress to promote pro-life policies and be an advocate for the unborn.

She also acknowledged President Donald Trump’s commitment to the pro-life cause.

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“I’m unapologetically pro-life,” Roby said on “The Jeff Poor Show.” “And as you all know, 46 years ago, the Supreme Court offered its infamous Roe v. Wade decision, which legalizes abortion on demand in the United States. And as I said on the floor the other day, and this is breathtaking to say, more than 60 million unborn babies have had their lives ended by abortion. So to all the courageous individuals that have taken to the Hill today to participate in the March for Life, I just want to say thank you for your willingness to do that. As you know, it’s an annual event where the pro-life community comes together to advocate for those who do not have a voice.”

“I’m really grateful for those who made the trip to Washington today out of dedication for what I believe is a deeply worthy cause,” she continued. “It’s our responsibility. It’s my responsibility to speak out for those who can’t speak for themselves. But this March for Life provides a tremendous platform for all pro-life Americans to do that and come together once a year. I would just like the message today to be thank you, but also that I will continue to use my position in Congress to be a vocal advocate for the unborn.”

Roby also addressed the House Franking Commission’s ruling stating that lawmakers were prohibited from using official accounts to promote the March for Life, calling it quite stunning.

She also acknowledged President Donald Trump’s vow to veto legislation that would weaken federal pro-life policies.

“One of the things that we just recently did – I joined 169 of my House colleagues in sending a letter to President Trump asking him to reject any legislation that would weaken our federal pro-life policy,” Roby said. “We just got word today that he said he will veto any existing legislation that weakened existing pro-life laws as long as he is president.”

“That is a huge win for the pro-life movement,” she added. “So again, I think Democrats’ reaction to this is they feel threatened, but we’re just going to continue to fight, and that is what this is.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

2 hours ago

Stray dog finds love and comfort at Alabama Power plant

When a stray dog wandered onto the property at Alabama Power’s Plant Greene County a dozen years ago, workers there had no idea how she would end up touching them all.

They also had no idea the dog was pregnant.

The latter became apparent when she had five puppies a few days later. The former has been firmly established by those who have come to love the dog they call Pup-Pup.

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Initially, they cared for the dog expecting she would find her way back home. It was soon apparent that Pup-Pup was home.

“Little did she know she went from hell to heaven when she showed up here,” said Christopher “Critter” Glass, mechanic-welder at the plant, who gave Pup-Pup her name.

Stray dog Pup-Pup finds loving family at Alabama Power plant from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Pup-Pup’s five puppies were given to contractors and employees. Employees donated to have her fixed and she has been a fixture at the plant ever since.

“An all call will go out and everyone here pitches in for anything she needs, whether it’s food, medicine or a new bed,” said Elaine Fetzer, financial specialist at Plant Greene County.

Recently, Pup-Pup was diagnosed with kidney failure and is no longer able to stay at the plant overnight. Fetzer, who once wanted to be a veterinarian, has tapped into that calling in caring for Pup-Pup away from the plant. She takes Pup-Pup home at the end of the workday and dispenses her medicine twice a day.

“Pup-Pup’s never missed a day until all of this went down (kidney failure), so she’s taking a few vacation days, but she has earned it,” Fetzer said. “Now she is getting her weekends and holidays.”

Even before Pup-Pup’s current health problems, she has had challenges. A vet visit after she was hit by a car revealed she had been shot before her days at the plant. She has always been skittish around flashlights and flashes, possibly because she may have been shot at night when someone shined a light on her.

But at Plant Greene County, Pup-Pup gives and receives love.

The outpouring of love is tinged with sadness as her plant family fears Pup-Pup is facing her final days.

As Plant Greene County Mechanic Chris Cameron put it: “Pup-Pup’s been a great dog, never seen a dog as mighty as her.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 hours ago

Birmingham Iron football team finishes first week of training camp, holds joint practice

The Birmingham Iron has finished its first week of training camp in San Antonio, ending with a joint practice with the Salt Lake Stallions.

Birmingham’s Alliance of American Football team is using the camp to whittle its roster down from the 85 original players to the 52 that will take the field against the Memphis Express at 1 p.m. on Feb. 10 at Legion Field to kick off the inaugural season for the team and the new league.

The Iron released interviews with two players expected to make the final roster – running back Trent Richardson and quarterback Luis Perez.

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Update from Birmingham Iron training camp from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Richardson said the practice with the Stallions showed the progress the Iron is making as a team.

“It shows that we got something special,” the former University of Alabama and NFL running back said. “It shows that both sides still need a lot of work. But we did a lot of great things out there. We showed that team chemistry, too.”

Perez agreed that they are building something with this team.

“As a team, I think we’re doing a very good job,” he said. “We’re stacking those blocks, getting better every single day. Not making the same mistake twice is the end goal. Just getting better, installing all these plays and studying them. Right now we’re all in a learning phase, and I think we’re doing a good job.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 hours ago

Alabama WFF Ramps Up CWD Sampling Effort

With positive tests for chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Tennessee and additional positives in Mississippi, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division has ramped up testing in north Alabama.

WFF officials set up manned sampling stations in Hackleburg the first weekend of the new year and followed with sampling last weekend in Waterloo.

Self-service sampling stations were recently set up by WFF in north Alabama to accommodate drop-offs 24 hours a day.

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WFF Director Chuck Sykes said testing for the always-fatal disease, which is caused by a rogue protein called a prion, has been ongoing since 2002, but the positive tests in neighboring states caused WFF to increase its sampling effort.

“The Mississippi positives made us test more in the areas that joined Mississippi,” Sykes said. “When the deer in Tennessee tested positive, it prompted an increased level of testing where it fell within the response zone. Those positives just prompted us to increase our surveillance in those areas.”

Sixteen deer were brought in for sampling at the Hackleburg station, but Sykes said the interaction with hunters who didn’t harvest deer may have been the most productive aspect of the manned sampling station.

“We didn’t know what to expect, but I consider it a success for a volunteer check station,” Sykes said. “More important than the 16 deer brought in, we had two times that many hunters stop by and ask questions. It was a really good way for our staff to get in front of the public, and the public to be able to ask questions one-on-one.”

Sykes and the WFF staff discovered that, although the Division has been immersed in the CWD Response Plan, it has yet to be widely discussed in the public.

“We (WFF) are up to our eyeballs in CWD,” Sykes said. “Even though we’ve offered seminars, done articles and put up billboards, a lot of people don’t pay attention until it hits close to home. A lot of the questions were just basic CWD knowledge that the average hunter in Alabama doesn’t understand. What is it? Why is it a problem? What makes it different from other diseases? These were very positive interactions. There was nothing negative about it.”

Sykes said the self-service sampling stations are part of the standard protocols of the CWD Response Plan (https://www.outdooralabama.com/deer-hunting-alabama/chronic-wasting-disease-what-you-should-know).

“With the positives in Mississippi and Tennessee within 50 miles of our border, that prompts us to do more testing in those areas,” he said. “It’s been shown time and time again that hunter-harvested deer and road-kills are the best ways to achieve samples and to get the most out of those samples. Just going in and randomly shooting deer is okay, but in areas that have had CWD for a long time, there is a higher predominance in road-kill deer and hunter-harvested deer because they lose their sense of wariness. The most effective way to sample is by hunter-harvested deer and working with ALDOT (Alabama Department of Transportation) to identify road-kills.”

Above all, Sykes said he wants hunters to continue to pursue deer just like they always have.

“Again, this is not something to cause people to quit hunting,” he said. “We need them to become educated on what CWD is. Don’t rely on what they’ve heard at hunting camp or what they saw on Facebook. Talk to us to try to understand the disease and what we’re doing to try to prevent it.”

Sykes reiterated how hunting, especially deer hunting, is a cornerstone in Alabama’s culture and economy. Hunting has an almost $2 billion impact annually on Alabama’s economy.

“This is not a hunter issue,” he said. “This is not even a deer hunting issue. This is a State of Alabama economic issue and a way of life issue. We need people to understand what’s going on, and we need their assistance to gather these samples in the most efficient way so we can stay on top of it. Heaven forbid, if it does get here, we will be prepared to mitigate the risks as much as possible.”

Previously, tissue samples had to be sent out of state to be tested for CWD. In 2018, WFF provided funds for the Alabama Department of Agriculture to purchase CWD testing equipment, which was set up at Auburn University. The equipment and technician have been certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and can test up to 90 samples per day.

Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship said the new CWD testing equipment speeds up the state’s response time considerably.

“We don’t have to wait on anybody,” Blankenship said. “We take our samples to the Department of Agriculture lab at Auburn University. We will get those test results quickly and be able to respond as soon as possible.”

The freezers for the self-service sample stations are located in Fayette, Lamar, Marion, Franklin, Lauderdale, and Colbert counties and are available to receive deer head samples 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

At the self-service locations, hunters must first remove the deer’s head with 4-6 inches of neck attached. For bucks, antlers can be removed at the base of each antler or by removing the skull plate before bagging the head. Hunters will then place the head in the provided plastic bag and tie it closed. They will need to complete all sections of the Biological Sample Tag, and attach the tag to the bag with a zip tie. Hunters will take the bottom receipt portion of the Biological Sample Tag before placing the bagged head in the freezer. All materials needed to drop off a sample are provided at each freezer location.

Locations of the self-service CWD drop-off sampling sites are:

Fayette County, Fayette County Extension Office, 650 McConnell Loop, Fayette, Ala., 35555

Lamar County, Hunter’s Gold Processing, 11634 County Rd. 9, Millport, Ala., 35576

Marion County, Watson’s Grocery, 5658 State Highway 19, Detroit, Ala., 35552

Franklin County, Fancher’s Taxidermy, 715 Newell Rd., Red Bay, Ala., 35582

Lauderdale County, Florence Frozen Meats, 1050 South Court St., Florence, Ala., 35630

Colbert County, Yogi’s Texaco, 17750 US Highway 72, Tuscumbia, Ala., 35674

Hunters can also have deer sampled at any WFF District Office (www.outdooralabama.com/wildlife-section) or at the WFF office in Marengo County at 1105 Bailey Dr., Demopolis, Ala., 36732, phone number 334-289-8030. WFF offices are open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Before dropping off the sample, hunters should call ahead to make sure a biologist is available.

Sykes said the test results will be emailed to the hunter within three to four weeks.

Currently, self-service freezers are located throughout northwest Alabama only because of the increased surveillance samples needed in the response zones of the CWD-positive locations in Mississippi and Tennessee.

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

20 hours ago

Mo Brooks to continue key service for Tennessee Valley on House Armed Services Committee

Friday, Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-5) announced he will again serve on the highly influential House Armed Services Committee in the 116th Congress, with increased seniority this time around.

Brooks has served on the important committee for the Huntsville area since taking office in 2011. He will also receive a second committee assignment to be revealed by the House Republican Steering Committee next week.

Among Republican members of the Armed Services committee, Brooks’ seniority has improved to 16th out of 26. His seniority among the full committee membership has officially yet to be determined, but it is expected to improve as well.

In a statement, Brooks emphasized the committee assignment’s importance to his district.

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“The military side of Redstone Arsenal employs roughly 30,000 Tennessee Valley residents,” Brooks said. “In light of the dramatic cut in Republicans on the Armed Services Committee (as we moved from majority to minority status), I am pleased my Republican colleagues chose me to continue serving on Armed Services, where my growing seniority empowers me to better protect America’s national security and promote Redstone Arsenal’s role in providing that security.”

Brooks concluded, “The Tennessee Valley is experiencing rapid economic growth in large part because of Redstone Arsenal’s reputation as a center of excellence. Quite frankly, we often do what no one else in the world can do. Recognizing this, I again successfully competed for a position on Armed Service, which annually produces the National Defense Authorization Act, the primary mechanism whereby Congress authorizes Department of Defense programs.”

Subcommittee assignments for the House Armed Service Committee will be announced in the coming weeks.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn