Police: Chicago woman posed as relative of murder victims to claim refunds, checks

CHICAGO — A Chicago woman is accused of obtaining death certificates of young homicide victims by claiming she was a relative and then using their stolen identities to collect thousands of dollars in COVID-19 stimulus payments and tax refunds, authorities said.

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Katrina Pierce, 50, was charged in U.S. District Court on charges of wire fraud and identity theft, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Pierce’s court-appointed attorney could not immediately be reached for comment, according to the newspaper.

The 34-page complaint alleges that Pierce had posed as the aunt of Amari Brown, a 7-year-old boy fatally shot on July 4, 2015, to request his death certificate, the Tribune reported. The complaint alleges that Pierce then used the stolen information to file a fraudulent tax return that resulted in a $4,400 refund check from the IRS.

An IRS special agent reported that the Cook County Bureau of Vital Records became suspicious of Pierce in late 2019 when a staff member downloaded electronic applications for death certificates in one day, WBBM-TV reported. The staff member said Pierce submitted four requests for death certificates in one day, claiming to be the sister of each of the decedents, the Tribune reported.

According to the newspaper, a check of the bureau’s database revealed that Pierce had requested 37 death certificates in 2019 and was able to obtain 26 of them. All of the certificates were for homicide victims ranging in age from 2 years old to 22 years old, according to the Tribune.

Requests for death certificates had also come in from a “Tracy Scott” and a “Tammy Jones” using the same address that belonged to Pierce, WBBM reported. The applications stated that Scott worked for “Pierce Auto” and Jones was employed by “Pierce Inc.,” according to the television station.

In another example alleged in the complaint, Pierce is accused of applying for a loan on behalf of a manufacturing business called “Katrina D. Pierce LLC” at her Chicago address, WBBM reported. The business claimed to have 106 employees and $670,000 in gross revenue, according to the federal complaint.

Pierce is also accused of filing for loans using the name of an agriculture business in southern Illinois, a small business owner from Idaho, one farmer in Montana and two farmers in Iowa, according to WBBM.

Brown’s family was angered by the identity theft, which opened old wounds.

“Why would someone want to do this?” Andrina Hailey, Brown’s aunt, told WLS-TV. “It’s very sensitive to us, and we just think it’s disgusting.

“It’s wrong. It’s morally wrong. It’s just wrong.”

Pierce was arrested Tuesday, the Tribune reported. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for next Tuesday, according to the newspaper.

According to prosecutors, Pierce was sentenced in 2012 to 11 years in federal prison for using stolen identities and other fraudulent documents to steal more than $200,000 in federal tax refunds and state child-care benefits, the Tribune reported. She was still on supervised release when she was arrested this week, according to the newspaper.

“Identify theft can be very tricky, very difficult for authorities to detect because the systems simply aren’t in place, at least not across the entire federal bureaucracy or state bureaucracy to proactively look for instances of identity theft,” said Gil Soffer, a legal analyst for WLS.

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