Inmate sentenced for prison tax fraud scheme

A former inmate of San Quentin State Prison and several jails has been sentenced in federal court in San Francisco to seven years in prison for stealing fellow inmates’ identities and filing false tax returns in their names.

Howard Webber, 52, of San Francisco, was given the prison term on Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg.

Webber was convicted by a jury in January of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, nine counts of mail fraud and five counts of aggravated identity theft after a two-week trial in Seeborg’s court.

U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Abraham Simmons said evidence at the trial showed that Webber and a co-defendant, Clifford Bercovich, 69, of San Rafael, conspired between 2010 and 2012 to obtain the names and Social Security numbers of inmates at several jails and prisons where Webber was incarcerated during that time.

The institutions included San Quentin, Santa Clara County Jail and a jail in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The two men formed a shell company called Inmate Assets Recovery and Liquidation Services LLC and told inmates they could help them take advantage of government stimulus programs or secret tax loopholes.

Webber and Bercovich then filed more than 700 fraudulent tax returns that typically claimed about $7,000 in income, and received more than $600,000 in tax refunds, Simmons said.

The proceeds were distributed among Webber, Bercovich, inmates who had served as recruiters and the inmates whose names were used on the tax forms, according to prosecution filings.

Seeborg will hold a hearing on June 12 to determine how much restitution should be paid to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

Bercovich pleaded guilty in December to three counts of conspiracy, mail fraud and identity theft, and became a prosecution witness in Webber’s trial. He is due to be sentenced by Seeborg on June 20.

In a ruling on the case in 2015, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that the use of another person’s identity for illegal purposes qualifies as a crime of identity theft even if the information was obtained with the person’s consent.