Kingsport Times News Tuesday, July 29, 2014

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Sullivan pair sentenced in drug, inmate tax fraud cases

July 1st, 2014 7:32 am by Matthew Lane

Sullivan pair sentenced in drug, inmate tax fraud cases

UPDATE:  Other individuals involved in the drug trafficking conspiracy previously sentenced in federal court include Dustin Wilcox a.k.a. "Weiner", 32, of Kingsport, sentenced to serve 270 months in prison.

Ricky Harvey, 30, of Kingsport, received a 180-month prison sentence following his convictions on oxycodone and money laundering conspiracy charges.

Michael Sharp, 50, of Blountville, was previously sentenced to serve 72 months in prison following his conviction on oxycodone trafficking charges.

Donnie Horne, Jason Jones, 36, of Elizabethton, and Stephen Leon Williams, 62, of Kingsport, were all previously sentenced to prison terms of 71 months, 78 months and 90 months, respectively. Williams was convicted for selling oxycodone pills and a firearm while on parole for a prior murder conviction.

KINGSPORT — A Sullivan County couple involved in a major drug trafficking ring in Northeast Tennessee and a scheme to file false tax returns with the stolen identities of Sullivan County inmates, were sentenced in federal court on Monday.

Devin Ray Horne and his then-girlfriend, Melissa Ann Nowlin, were indicted in U.S. District Court in Greeneville in 2013 along with 15 other defendants. The 28-count indictment charges that from 2008 to 2013 they conspired to distribute 10,000 oxycodone pills in Northeast Tennessee, including the Sullivan County Jail.

Horne plead guilty to drug trafficking, money laundering and witness intimidation and on Monday received a 282-month prison sentence. Nowlin pleaded guilty to the drug trafficking charge and received a 41-month prison sentence.

Judge Ronnie Greer ordered Horne to pay $23,451 in restitution; Nowlin $18,160.

According to court records, Nowlin went on at least two trips with Horne to obtain the oxycodone pills, delivered pills for him and sent a wire transfer to the main supplier of the narcotics. Horne obtained the drugs from sources in Michigan and Florida, as well as Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

Horne also has prior convictions in Sullivan County Criminal Court for illegal narcotic distribution.

After being arrested in 2013 and while incarcerated, Horne threatened Nowlin to try to prevent her from testifying against him or helping law enforcement. Recorded jail conversations have Horne making the threats to Nowlin herself and telling another defendant in the drug case.

"You take my life, someone will take your life." Horne said of Nowlin, according to court records.

The second case against Horne and Nowlin involved the one-time couple stealing the identities of Sullivan County Jail inmates, filing false tax returns and keeping the money for their own personal use.

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.

Nowlin pleaded guilty in March to conspiracy and four counts of theft of public money. Horne pleaded guilty to the same charges a month later.

On Monday, Horne received a 33-month prison sentence on the charges while Nowlin recevied 41 months. Both sentences are to run concurrent with their sentences on the drug charges.

Horne faced up to 30 years in prison; Nowlin up to 10.

According to the court records, 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 quickly, 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, according to the indictment. Horne always received at least half the money, according to the plea agreement.

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

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