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Kingsport woman pleads guilty to conspiracy, theft of public money

March 12th, 2014 11:05 pm by Matthew Lane

Kingsport woman pleads guilty to conspiracy, theft of public money

GREENEVILLE — A Kingsport woman has pleaded guilty in federal court to a scheme in which she and her ex-boyfriend stole the identities of Sullivan County Jail inmates, filed false tax returns and kept the money for their own personal use.

Devin Ray Horne, 24, and his then-girlfriend, Melissa Ann Nowlin, 28, were indicted in U.S. District Court in Greeneville in February. The 28-count indictment charged the Kingsport duo with conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government, false claims, theft of public money, aggravated identity theft, conspiracy to commit mail fraud and mail fraud.

On Monday, Nowlin appeared before Judge Ronnie Greer and agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy and four counts of theft of public money. Both charges carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

In August 2013, Nowlin pleaded guilty to other charges involving her participation with Horne and numerous others in a conspiracy to distribute oxycodone pills. Sentencing for Nowlin on both the oxycodone conspiracy and the fraudulent income tax return case was set for June 30.

Horne's jury trial on the tax return case is scheduled for May 8.

According to the indictment, Horne and Nowlin crafted and executed a scheme to obtain the personal information of people in the community and inmates incarcerated at the Sullivan County Jail and use it to fill out false income tax returns.

Prosecutors say the couple carried out the scheme from January 2009 through October 2012 with Horne obtaining the personal information from fellow inmates and others in the community while he was incarcerated in the jail.

Horne told Nowlin the scheme was a way to obtain money "right quick" and that he did it "all the time," noting Horne was going to "mess with" some inmates by filing tax returns using their identities, the indictment states.

In a recorded jail conversation, Horne told Nowlin they could get $4,000 to $5,000 in five weeks, and that the refund checks would start rolling in quick, the plea agreement states. In at least three other recorded jail conversations, Horne and Nowlin discussed the scheme and how it was to be executed.

After Horne obtained the personal information, the indictment alleges, he told Nowlin and other conspirators what figures and amounts to put on the 1040EZ forms, how much the refunds should be and what addresses to use on the tax returns.

The addresses used on the forms belonged to Horne's family members, and prosecutors say all of the submitted returns contained almost identical wages, federal tax withholding and occupations. In fact, most of the claims were either for $880 or $1,280.

Nowlin and others obtained the checks, cashed them and, together with Horne, converted the funds to personal use, the indictment states. Horne always received at least half the money, the plea agreement states.

Over the course of the conspiracy, the couple is accused of stealing the identity of more than a dozen people and defrauding the government of more than $10,000.

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