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L.A. prosecutors charge 54 with identity theft

A search warrant executed last week led to the arrests of 55 L&M Optical Disc West employees and charges of using false documents to obtain employment against all but one of the 55 arrested.

February 10, 2009|Carol J. Williams

Prosecutors charged 54 employees of a Valencia music reproduction business with identity theft Monday in what the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said appeared to be a massive tax evasion scheme that company managers should have detected.

A search warrant executed last week led to the arrests of 55 of L&M Optical Disc West's 200 or so employees and the charges of using false documents to obtain employment against all but one of those arrested. Conviction can lead to a five-year prison term.

It wasn't yet clear whether the alleged involvement in identity theft of so many employees of a single company was being orchestrated internally, said Sgt. James Anderson, in charge of burglary and fraud for the sheriff's Santa Clarita office.

Eleven of those arrested during the raid Thursday have been released on bond. The other 44 remained jailed with bail for each set at $50,000.

One person has been released without charges, Anderson said, because he had only one piece of false identification; the statute governing identity theft refers to "false documents," in the plural.

The case came to authorities' attention after 19 people, mostly Valencia-area residents, reported receiving overdue tax bills from the Internal Revenue Service on income they hadn't earned.

Investigation of the company's employment records turned up the 55 instances of false documentation, Anderson said, and an ongoing review of past employee records is expected to turn up further cases.

L&M Optical management's culpability in the fraud alleged against more than a quarter of its employees hasn't yet been fully assessed, Anderson said.

But he said the company's personnel manager at a minimum appeared to have failed to verify the employees' driver's licenses and Social Security cards.

No one from L&M Optical was available to answer questions about the arrests, a receptionist told The Times.

Victims of identity theft suffer a multitude of problems, the sergeant said, noting that the IRS requires an individual to prove that he or she isn't responsible for the identity thief's tax bill.

It can also adversely affect a victim's eligibility for Medicare or Medicaid and the determination of how much child support a parent has to pay, he added.

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carol.williams@latimes.com

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