Dozens of victims of severe brain injuries had their identities stolen by a man who worked at the New York center where they were treated, a prosecutor said Monday. The suspect then filed phony tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service and in at least two states, pocketing over $200,000 in refunds.
Benjamin Achampong, 30, was charged with grand larceny, identity theft and other crimes in a 48-count indictment, Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said. Achampong pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Friday and was being held on $50,000 bail. His attorney, Michael Alber, declined to comment.
In addition to the charges against Achampong in New York, Spota said he is suspected of using the same victims' Social Security numbers and other identification to obtain $30,000 in refunds in New Jersey, though charges have yet to be filed there. Achampong had been in custody in Georgia, facing credit card fraud, forgery and identity theft charges stemming from a November 2011 arrest.
Spota said authorities in Charleston County, Ga., contacted his office late last year after an arrest warrant had been issued in New York, and Achampong was extradited to Long Island last week.
He said the suspect took the identities of 56 brain injury victims who were in such severe condition they were unable to qualify for any employment that would make them subject to paying income taxes. He added that because of the victims' conditions, they were sometimes unable to assist detectives; a factor that slowed the investigation.
Achampong also is on probation in Nassau County, Long Island, for his conviction in a 2009 case, where he admitted stealing the identity of a dead developmentally disabled man to obtain debit cards, the prosecutor said.
Spota said Achampong stole the brain injury patients' personal identification while working as a manager for Long Island's Head Injury Association, an agency that provides housing and services for people disabled by head trauma, either by stroke, disease, or as accident victims.
During the opening of a news conference Monday to announce the charges, Spota described Achampong as a "shameless, incorrigible thief who has absolutely no moral standards whatsoever."
Through a spokesman, the association said Achampong had not worked at the facility since 2006. The phony returns were filed that year and the following year, prosecutors said.
"The agency is shocked and appalled by the possible victimization of our clients by this former employee," the statement said, noting the agency has cooperated with investigators and turned over all information and records that could assist them.
The prosecutor said Achampong usually had the tax refunds, which ranged between $200 and $2,000 each, transferred electronically to one of at least 16 bank accounts he controlled. Spota noted that tax officials do not question where to send a tax refund, as long as the filer provides a bank account and routing number for an account.
Achampong allegedly used the money to buy a Range Rover and to pay his own personal expenses and the rent and expenses "of a number of girlfriends."