PITTSBURGH, Pa. – A Cuban national pleaded not guilty Friday to charges he conspired to file 900 phoney federal tax returns seeking $2.2 million in refunds by using employee information stolen from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
Yoandy Perez Llanes, 32, was extradited last week from Venezuela. His public defender has agreed with prosecutors that Llanes is a risk to flee prosecution and should remain jailed until trial.
Llanes was indicted in June 2015 with unnamed others on charges of wire fraud, money laundering, aggravated identity theft and conspiracy. He was arraigned Friday in federal court in Pittsburgh.
According to the indictment, Llanes and at least three others were part of a group who used the hospital employees’ information to collect phoney tax refunds as Amazon.com credits. The service offered by online filing service Turbo Tax is known as monetizing.
The credits were then used to buy smartphones, computers, video games and other easily re-sellable electronics, which were reshipped by others, based in Miami, to Venezuelan cities including Maracay and Maracaibo, the indictment said. Reshipping the items was meant to make them harder to trace to the conspirators, the indictment said.
Others in Venezuela then sold the devices through online merchants or auction sites or kept them for personal use, according to the indictment.
The investigation by the IRS and the U.S. Secret Service was continuing in hopes of charging others.
“This case highlights the value of multijurisdictional partnerships in the apprehension of transnational cybercriminals,” said Timothy Burke, the special agent-in-charge of the Secret Service office in Pittsburgh.
Federal authorities said the scheme was halted last year after almost $1.5 million of the $2.2 million in refunds sought through the bogus tax returns had been paid out.
UPMC is a 21-hospital network with thousands of doctors and dominates western Pennsylvania. The hospitals were hacked in early 2014, and UPMC officials said then it appeared as many as 27,000 of its 62,000 employees were affected.
Wire fraud and money laundering each carry up to 20 years in prison and conspiracy carries up to five years. Aggravated identity theft carries a two-year penalty, which must be tacked onto any other sentence a person receives.
Federal authorities have not detailed Llanes’ precise role in the alleged scheme.
His attorney, Thomas Livingston, has a blanket no-comment policy.