Feds accuse three of identity theft, filing false tax returns, money laundering

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A Texarkana, Texas, man is one of three defendants accused of using stolen identities to file phony tax returns in a scheme that defrauded the U.S. government of more than $1 million.

A federal indictment unsealed Tuesday in the Texarkana Division of the Eastern District of Texas accuses Michael Martin of Texarkana, Michelle Coppolla of Virginia and Osazuwa Peter Okunoghae of multiple crimes spanning several years beginning in 2011. Okunoghae, 40, uses aliases such as “Sazzy Pe,” “Zheng Kong,” and “Lee Hong,” and lived in Nigeria, Louisiana, Dallas and Houston during the time the crimes were allegedly committed.

Martin was arraigned at a court appearance Jan. 31 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Caroline Craven. Texarkana attorney David Crisp entered pleas of not guilty to all 19 counts listed in the indictment. Craven released Martin on an unsecured $10,000 appearance bond.

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Okunoghae appeared Tuesday before Craven for arraignment with Texarkana lawyer Jeff Harrelson and entered pleas of not guilty to all 19 counts. Okunoghae waived the issue of detention and is being held in federal custody in the Bowie County jail.

Coppolla has not yet appeared in court in Texarkana, court records show. She is only charged in the first count of the indictment.

The indictment’s first count charges all three defendants with conspiracy to commit theft of public money by obtaining tax refunds to which they were not entitled from the IRS. A number of different banks were used to receive and distribute the stolen money including banks in Texarkana such as Domino Federal Credit Union and Red River Employee Federal Credit Union.

Counts 2 through 8 accuse Martin and Okunoghae of theft of government money and lists eight separate refunds received under fraudulent means in 2014. Counts 9 through 15 accuse Martin and Okunoghae of aggravated identity theft. Count 16 accuses the two men of money laundering and describes a series of transactions at a variety of banks.

Counts 17 and 18 allege money laundering by the men while count 19 alleges conspiracy to commit money laundering existed between Okunoghae and Martin.

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