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A federal indictment unsealed Tuesday in a Texarkana federal court alleges three defendants used stolen identities to net more than $1 million in a scheme involving fraudulent tax returns from 2011 to 2014.

The 22-page, 19-count indictment accuses Michael Martin of Texarkana, Texas; Michelle Coppolla of Virginia; and Osazuwa Peter Okunoghae, who lived in Nigeria, Louisiana and Texas during the period of alleged wrongdoing. Several aliases are listed in the indictment for Okunoghae, 40, including "Sazzy Pe," "Lee Hong," and "Zheng Kong."

The scheme allegedly involved at least a dozen banks where ill-gotten tax refunds were deposited, transferred and withdrawn including Domino Credit Union and Red River Employee's Credit Union in Texarkana. The defendants allegedly used stolen identities and phony W2 forms to claim $1,117,697 in refunds from the Internal Revenue Service of the U.S.

Count one of the indictment accuses all three defendants of conspiring to steal public money by filing 153 false returns and netting more than $1 million in 2011, 2012 and 2013. The offense is punishable by up to five years in prison, the greater of a fine of $250,000 or two times the gross gain to the defendant or two times the loss to the victim, or both.

Counts two through eight accuse the defendants of theft of government money. Each count is punishable by up to 10 years in federal prison, the the greater of a fine of $250,000 or two times the gross gain to the defendant or two times the loss to the victim, or both.

Counts nine through 15 accuse Okunoghae and Martin of aggravated identity theft. That offense is punishable by two years in prison and a fine of $250,000. Any sentence imposed for each of the identity theft counts must be served consecutively to other terms.

Count 16 accuses Okunoghae and Martin of money laundering. The offense is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, the the greater of a fine of $250,000 or two times the gross gain to the defendant or two times the loss to the victim, or both.

Counts 17 and 18 also accuse Okunoghae and Martin of money laundering. The offense is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, the greater of a fine of $250,000 or two times the gross gain to the defendant or two times the loss to the victim, or both.

Count 19 accuses Okunoghae and Martin of conspiracy to commit money laundering. The offense is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and the greater of a fine up to $500,000 or two times the gross gain to the defendant or two times the loss to the victim, or both.

Martin appeared Jan. 31 with Texarkana lawyer David Crisp for arraignment before U.S. Magistrate Judge Caroline Craven. Crisp entered not guilty pleas to all 19 counts facing Martin. Craven released Martin on a $10,000 unsecured appearance bond.

Okunoghae appeared Tuesday before Craven for arraignment and entered pleas of not guilty to all 19 counts with the help of Texarkana lawyer Jeff Harrelson. Okunoghae was arrested by authorities in Houston, Texas, in February. He waived the issue of detention at Tuesday's hearing and remains in federal custody.

Coppolla has not yet appeared in court and an attorney of record for her is not listed.

 

llarowe@texarkanagazette.com

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