SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Six more people accused of stealing identities and using them to fraudulently collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax refunds have pleaded not guilty in federal court in South Dakota.
Four of the six are former University of South Dakota football players. One of them — Alphonso Valdez, 21, of Tampa, Fla. — is accused by the Internal Revenue Service of being the leader of the fraud scheme that authorities say began to unravel when a police officer in Vermillion spotted a suspicious man later identified as Valdez using a debit card to withdraw $900 from an ATM.
That led investigators to a USD dorm room, where authorities say they found evidence of fraud that led to a more than 6-month investigation. The IRS paid fraudulent claims of about $500,000 before the scheme was uncovered, according to U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson.
Nine people from South Dakota and Florida are charged in the alleged plot. A federal grand jury indicted them in November on conspiracy and identify theft charges. Valdez was among the six who pleaded not guilty on Monday in Sioux Falls.
Two others pleaded not guilty last month — Christopher Lundy, 21, the only active Coyotes football player this past season, and Terry Liggins, 27, a former USD track athlete and student body president. The ninth suspect has not yet appeared in court.
Convictions could lead to prison terms of up to a dozen years for the suspects.