MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — Two Myrtle Beach family members were sentenced to federal prison for defrauding the government out of $500,000 by filing false tax returns and stealing stimulus checks, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice.
A third family member was sentenced to probation, according to the release.
Donna Karakatsani, 48, was sentenced to two years in prison. Her son, Ivo Krasimirov Ivanov, 29, was sentenced to 1.5 years in prison, according to the release. The step-father, Todor Milkov Stoenchev, 54, was given five years of probation.
The family used money stolen from other people to buy houses “During a time when many families were struggling to make mortgage payments,” according to the release.
“Our nation went through one of the most challenging virus outbreaks in recent memory and one of our Government’s responses was establishing the CARES Act to lessen the economic impact on its citizens,” Special Agent in Charge of the Office of the Inspector General Michael Speckhardt said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the Defendants saw this as an opportunity to enrich themselves through a fraud scheme for which they were caught.”
Starting in 2020, the IRS began investigating the family regarding false tax refunds and stolen refunds, according to the release. Karakatsani and Ivanov targeted foreign individuals — usually from Bulgaria — who were spending time in the U.S., and filed tax returns in the names of the foreigners.
The foreigners were recruited through the internet and the foreigners would receive primarily education credits they weren’t entitled to, according to the release.
The family had other people open up bank accounts to deposit the refunds into and paid each person who opened an account $100, according to the release. There were 68 bank accounts created across 16 different banks in 14 different names.
Due to the false tax returns already filed, hundreds of stimulus checks were automatically deposited into the accounts the family had created, according to the release. The family kept the payments for themselves knowing neither they nor the foreigners they filed returns for were entitled to the funds.
In total, the family defrauded the government out of $530,292.60, according to the release.
The family was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Sherri A. Lydon, according to the release.