TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Two former Tampa police detectives turned themselves in Wednesday to face tax fraud charges, a day after an indictment alleged that thousands of dollars in fraudulent tax refund money was used to pay credit card expenses and other bills for the couple.
The Tampa Bay Times reports that Eric and LaJoyce Houston, who are married, were arraigned Wednesday afternoon just hours after reporting to U.S. Marshals.
Houston, 54, and LaJoyce, 49, were released on their own recognizance but ordered to surrender passports and barred from possessing other people’s personal identities.
They were represented by attorneys Lyann Goudie and Wade Whidden.
“Wade and I represent two officers who have had long and distinguished careers serving and protecting our community,” Goudie said earlier in the day. “We look forward to seeing what the government allegedly has to make of such a serious accusation.”
She and Whidden said the Houstons intend to plead not guilty. The case is assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Richard A. Lazzara.
Authorities, in making the indictment public Tuesday, laid out in court documents what they said was evidence of tax refund fraud being committed by a close circle of former Tampa police employees.
The court documents said some police officers’ identities were stolen by thieves, including the identity of one officer who was killed in the line of duty.
Eric Houston was one of the detectives who participated in the investigation of the murders of police officers David Curtis, whose personal information was reported stolen, and Jeffrey Kocab by a suspect in 2010. There is no indication in the court documents that Eric Houston was linked to the use of Curtis’ identity, or the identities of any other fellow officers, in tax refund fraud.
Authorities said in evidence presented in various court documents that there was an unusually close relationship between the Houstons and Rita Girven, who was a registered police informant.
The documents said Girven formed a close bond with the Houstons, who adopted one of her children, gave her money, socialized and shopped with her.
Girven pled guilty in March to two federal charges relating to $33,002 in stolen identity tax refund fraud. She awaits scheduled sentencing next month.
The indictment alleges that fraudulent tax refund money, in additing to being used to pay credit cards, was also used to pay pool service bills for the Houstons.
According to a May affidavit, authorities said 4,600 people whom Eric Houston ran through police databases in a three-year period later had fake federal tax returns filed in their names.
For a time, authorities said, Tampa led the nation in stolen identity refund fraud, which has drained billions from federal coffers.