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Katrina Pierce Indicted On Charges Of Using Homicide Victims' Identities For False Tax Returns, Fraudulent COVID-19 Stimulus Payments

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A grand jury has indicted Katrina Pierce, a Chicago woman accused of filing false tax returns and obtaining fraudulent COVID-19 stimulus payments using the identities of homicide victims in Chicago and beyond.

The indictment was returned Monday in U.S. District Court. It charges Pierce, 50, with 10 counts of wire fraud, six counts of aggravated identity theft, three counts of making false statements to the U.S. Small Business Administration, and one count of possessing identification documents to defraud the United States.

Read The Indictment

Arraignment is set for Oct. 5 before U.S. District Judge Virginia M. Kendall, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Among Pierce's alleged victims is Amari Brown, who was just 7 years old when he was shot and killed on a Humboldt Park neighborhood sidewalk in 2015.

In a 33-page criminal complaint last week, a special agent from the IRS reported that the Cook County Bureau of Vital Records first became suspicious of Pierce in October or November 2019, when a staffer downloaded electronic applications for death certificates submitted by currency exchanges within one day.

It turned out that Pierce had filed to obtain 37 death certificates in 2019 alone, and had succeeded in getting at least 26. All were homicide victims ranging in age from 2 to 22 who had been killed on the Chicago's South and West sides, the complaint said.

Requests for death certificates had also come in from a "Tracy Scott" and a "Tammy Jones" using the same West Englewood neighborhood address on Winchester Avenue that Pierce herself had used, the complaint said. Both names are suspected to be aliases for Pierce. The applications claimed "Scott" worked for "Pierce Auto" and Jones for "Pierce Inc." at the West Englewood building, the complaint said.

In January 2020, IRS agents went to the West Englewood building, which turned out to be a residential two-flat, the complaint said. They went to the garbage cans out back and took four trash bags – in which they found discarded handwritten notes about all different people who had died – with names, dates of birth, and other information, and with manners of death such as "shot," "stabbed," or "fall" scribbled in the margins, the complaint said.

Pierce sought to steal the identities of homicide victims in St. Louis, and at least one St. Louis shooting victim's name was used by Pierce to file false tax returns in both 2020 and 2021 for false COVID stimulus checks and prepaid debit cards, the complaint said.

Investigators later determined that Pierce had filed more than a dozen false tax returns in 2020 and 2021 – using her own name, an alias, or a stolen ID.

In one return, she claimed as a dependent child a 7-year-old boy who had been shot and killed on a Chicago sidewalk in 2015, and claimed she was entitled to a Child Tax Credit and an Earned Income Tax Credit, the complaint said.

The boy referenced in this filing is believed to be Amari, who was killed in a drive-by shooting in the 1100 block of North Harding Avenue on July 4, 2015. His murder made headlines that summer.

In 2012, Pierce was sentenced to 11 years in federal prison for a similar scheme. She apparently served seven, having been released in 2019.

Pierce already had 10 previous fraud or theft convictions at that point, federal prosecutors said at the time.

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