PITTSBURGH (AP) — A Cuban national faces deportation once he finishes serving about three years in prison for his role in an international conspiracy to file more than 900 phony federal tax returns seeking $2.2 million using employee information stolen from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
Yoandy Perez Llanes (YAWN’-es), 34, pleaded guilty to money laundering conspiracy and aggravated identity theft charges in April. He’s been in custody since his arrest in Venezuela in May 2015. He was sentenced Thursday by a federal judge in Pittsburgh who gave him credit for 30 months in custody, then ordered Llanes to spend six more months in prison before deportation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Melucci said Llanes’ role was to track phony tax refunds that were to be paid as Amazon.com credits and to receive cellphones, computers and other electronics bought with the credits that were shipped to him in Venezuela. The service converting tax refunds to Amazon credits is offered by online filing service Turbo Tax and is known as monetizing.
The investigation into who actually hacked into UPMC’s computers and presumably sold that information on encrypted sites known as the Dark Web continues, Melucci said, as it does into who directed Llanes and others underlings to traffic in the goods that were bought, shipped and resold for profit.
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According to the indictment, Llanes and at least three others who have not been publicly identified were among those using the hospital employees’ identities to collect phony tax refunds. After the credits were used to buy the easily re-sellable electronics, they were shipped by others in Miami to people like Llanes in Venezuela. The items were re-shipped to make them harder to trace.
Those in Venezuela then sold the devices through online merchants or auction sites or kept them for personal use. Llanes received an unspecified payment for his role, Melucci said.
UPMC’s computers were hacked in January 2014, and at least 939 bogus returns were filed in the next couple of months. The scheme was halted 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 30-hospital network with about 80,000 employees that dominates western Pennsylvania and in recent months has moved into other parts of the state through mergers and other transactions.
Llanes was also ordered to forfeit more than $696,000 in unredeemed Amazon gift credits as part of his sentence.
Although the married father of two faces deportation, whether he’ll be returned to Venezuela or his native Cuba is unclear, according to an exchange between Melucci and U.S. District Judge Mark Hornak.
Llanes told the judge in April that he didn’t realize his role of receiving the merchandise was illegal, and he repeated as much in his apology made in court through an interpreter.
“I fell into this situation mainly because of economic need and because I was deceived,” Llanes said, without explaining how or who deceived him. “I apologize to this country and this city.”