‘Lifelong fraudster’ jailed for using murder victim IDs to steal funds
‘Lifelong fraudster’ is sentenced to five years in prison after she used the identities of dozens of murder victims – aged between 2 and 22 – in Illinois to steal more than $45,000 in government funds
Career fraudster Katrina Pierce was sentenced last week to five years in federal prison for filing close to three-dozen death certificates of individuals she claimed were relatives and using their stolen identities to collect tens of thousands of dollars in government funds. The South Side of Chicago resident used stolen identities to scam the government and US taxpayers out of close to $45,000 between 2019 and 2021, including COVID-19 stimulus payments and tax refunds. The woman, who had 12 prior convictions for similar charges, was again convicted on similar wire fraud and identity theft charges for acquiring more than 36 death certificates for murder victims. The ages of the dead ranged from 2 to 22.
Pierce pretended she was in some capacity related to each of the victims, though she ultimately found it difficult to keep her stories straight, and used personal details from the certificates to file for tax refunds and pandemic stimulus payments. Pierce, 51, pleaded guilty in August to a single count of wire fraud. Her attorney had requested a two and a half year sentence, while prosecutors were after a six year term. Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Havey told Judge Virginia Kendall (pictured) that when Pierce was arrested in 2021, agents found more than 35 death certificates in her home from across the country, including Illinois, California, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and North Carolina. Among the identities used by Katrina Pierce was that of Amari Brown, the 7-year-old boy fatally shot in the Humboldt Park neighborhood on July 4, 2015, whose death made headlines at the time. In that case, Pierce posed as Amari’s aunt when requesting his death certificate in 2019, then proceeded to use the stolen information to file a tax return requesting a $4,400 child credit refund check.
On multiple occasions, the IRS issued COVID-10 stimulus payments worth $1,200, $600 and $1,400 respectively to Pierce after she filed a fraudulent tax return for a 22-year-old man who was fatally shot in St. Louis in 2019. Investigators also found via IRS records that multiple stimulus payments worth $3,200 had been made to a woman named Rajona Pierce – an alias Piece had used in prior criminal cases. ‘Rajona’ had listed just $1 in income from a fake beauty parlor in order to claim eligibility for COVID stimulus payments. Havey said Pierce’s story is a ‘disturbing history of stealing and assuming false identities and aliases, including those of the dead, both children and adult victims.’ ‘Defendant Katrina Pierce is a lifelong thief and fraudster, stealing other people’s identities and swindling government programs since at least the 1990s,’ Havey wrote last month in his sentencing recommendation. Her scheme was ‘sophisticated, thought-out and extensive in scope,’ Havey wrote, noting that Pierce had used at least 25 different aliases during her latest scam. At the time the fraud began, Pierce was still on supervised release after serving an 11-year federal sentence for a very similar scheme. Pictured: A 34-page criminal complaint details the extraordinary capacity for fraud possessed by Katrina Pierce, who has spent years working to defraud the US tax and other social aid systems.
She used stolen identities and other fake documents to steal more than $200,000 in federal tax refunds and state child care benefits using 180 fraudulent tax returns. She also paid people to lie to federal agents during the run of the 2012 case, prosecutors said. In the 2012 case, Pierce pleaded guilty to fraud and aggravated identity theft. In the sentencing memo, prosecutors wrote that she ‘engaged in expansive and all-consuming schemes to steal identities from the dead, misappropriate funds from the coffers of her country.’ She ‘cheat(ed) programs designed to benefit children and working parents, and swindle governments across the nation – all to enrich herself. Stealing was [her] full time occupation and she was good at it.’ At sentencing on Friday, Kendall took note of Pierce’s ongoing life of criminal fraud. ‘There have been so many opportunities for you to turn away from a life of crime, and you’ve been unable to do so,’ Judge Kendall said. Havey noted to the judge on Friday that no matter what sentence she ultimately imposed on Pierce, ‘I think we will both see her (in court) again.’ ‘Basically everywhere she’s been, she’s picked up convictions.’ Pictured: Amari Brown.
Pierce has accumulated 11 convictions for theft and fraud across several states between 1996 and 2012, according to the New York Times. She was convicted five times alone in North Carolina for obtaining property by false pretenses and public assistance fraud. ‘Some people, when you drop them, they break like glass,’ Pierce said at sentencing, seated at the defense table in blue jail clothes and glasses. ‘Your honor, I am on a journey of piecing myself back together again.’ Pierce’s latest bout of fraud was first flagged back in November 2019 by an employee at the Cook County Vital Records Bureau, who noticed that Pierce had submitted requests for four death certificates in one day. She had claimed to be the sister of each of the dead individuals, even though they had different last names, according to a 34-page complaint . When investigators arrived at her second floor apartment in a two-floor on the South Side of Chicago, they rummaged through the trash to find a list with scribbled names of the deceased and how they died. Pictured: The apartment where Pierce had been running her elaborate schemes.
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