A $35 million tax fraud scheme stretching from Chicago to Israel seems to be a family affair.
Authorities say Marvin Berkowitz, 62, his two sons, a son-in-law and six other men stole name and Social Security numbers of roughly 3,300 federal prisoners, and then used that information to file tax returns. The men had split about $4 million they'd had direct deposited into Chicago-area banks, but had filed returns for as much as $35 million, investigators said.
Yair Berkowitz, 26, of Chicago, the son of the alleged leader, and Eric Berkowitz, 33, of Chicago, Marvin Berkowitz's son-in-law, were arrested Sunday night and made an initial court appearance on Monday. Another son, David Berkowitz, lives in Los Angeles and was arrested by authorities there.
Others indicted include:
Fernando Benalcazar, 48, of west suburban Warrenville, who will be arraigned at a later date;
Marvin Harris, 75, of Chicago, who was arrested in Michigan;
Yousef Lefkowitz, 26, formerly of Brooklyn, N.Y., and living in Israel;
Christopher Moore, 44, of south suburban East Hazelcrest, will be arraigned at a later date;
Kevin Murray, 54, of west suburban Berkeley, will be arraigned at a later date; and
Franklin Novak, 61, formerly of Charlotte, N.C., and living in Jerusalem where he was arrested.
Family members of Yair Berkowitz and Eric Berkowitz had little to say when leaving court, but their attorneys said the men are being targeted because Marvin Berkowitz fled the United States in 2003 after being indicted on tax fraud.
Marvin Berkowitz allegedly directed the fraud ring from his home in Jerusalem and was arrested Sunday night. He will be brought back to the U.S. to face charges.
If convicted, tax fraud conspiracy carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Each count of mail and wire fraud carries a maximum of 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000. The identity theft counts against Marvin Berkowitz alone each carry a mandatory penalty of two years in prison and a $250,000 fine.