Angela Willingham, 40, who authorities say was the ringleader, and former boyfriend Matthew Harrington, 45, have been held without bond since their arrests last week in connection with a 146-count indictment.
In the federal court system, defendants are presumed eligible for bond unless prosecutors request pre-trial detention and a judge finds it is justified.
U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge W. Leon Barfield said Tuesday that the government’s motion for the pair’s detention was a valid request, but he wasn’t completely convinced at the end of a hearing Tuesday that the request should be granted.
IRS Special Agent Roger Garland testified about uncovering the scheme as he and FBI Special Agent Paul Kubala dug through bank and tax records and interviewed sources and those involved.
Authorities say the scheme involved income tax documents filed in the names of 90 people that reflected bogus lottery winnings with overpayment of taxes, entitling each person to tax return checks from the IRS.
Not only were the tax forms counterfeit, the names and personal information of the “taxpayers” were stolen from patients at Georgia Regents Medical Center and the East Central Regional Hospital’s Gracewood campus, Garland testified.
The checks were sent by direct deposit to bank accounts set up by members of the conspiracy, Garland said.
As soon as the checks came in, the money was removed. The first hint of fraud came when a bank officer saw income tax return checks for different people had been deposited into a single account. Willingham’s bank accounts alone received 26 checks totaling $102,530, he said.
One of the people involved in the conspiracy agreed to cooperate and recorded conversations with Willingham, during which Willingham discussed how each person in the conspiracy would divert federal agents’ attention and blame everything on a former Augusta businesswoman facing federal charges over an unrelated tax fraud scheme, Garland said.
The others named in the indictment are Santana Willingham, 23; Santrece Willingham, 22; James Butler, 21; Dentavia McNair, 23; Janice Smalley, 47; Cheryl Willingham, 37; Kelly Barton, 35; Brittney Wright, 25; Patrice Roberson, 36; and LaSandra Whitfield, 42. All of the defendants but Harrington, a Savannah resident, live in the Augusta area.