March 24, 2015
Jane Musgrave

WEST PALM BEACH — A far-flung identity theft scheme that cost the IRS $1 million was busted wide open when a 32-year-old Royal Palm Beach man was arrested by Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies and he couldn’t stop yapping about it on jail telephones.

Even though signs are posted at the county jail, warning inmates that all of the calls are recorded, federal prosecutor Stephen Carlton told a jury Monday that Lukner Blanc repeatedly talked about the operation while calling others to help him get out of jail. They ended up getting arrested as well.

“Blanc had multiple conversations with co-conspirators in Creole,” Carlton said during opening arguments in what is expected to be a two-week-long trial.

When the calls that he promised jurors they would get to hear were translated into English, Carlton said it was clear what Blanc was seeking: “He was recruiting them to continue the ongoing fraud.”

Blanc was part of a ring that accumulated notebooks filled with names, dates of birth and social security numbers of strangers, he said. While he didn’t say how the information was obtained, it was used to file fraudulent tax returns online. The Internal Revenue Service was then told to wire tax refunds to banks or prepaid debit cards controlled by Blanc or six others who participated in the scheme, Carlton said.

“This case is about lying and stealing money from the United States Treasury and then concealing those thefts by opening bank accounts in other people’s names and using prepaid debit cards to use the money stolen from the IRS,” he said.

Attorneys representing Blanc and Benoit Placide, 26, of West Palm Beach, told jurors to listen closely to the tapes of the jail phone calls. Blanc faces 18 charges in connection with the operation; Placide faces seven.

Attorney Richard Serafini, who represents Blanc, suggested the quality of the recordings is poor, making the translation suspect. Placide’s attorney, Jonathan Friedman, said the calls to his client aren’t what they may seem.

“Just as there are two sides to every story, there are two interpretations to every conversation,” he said. He described Placide as a “tag-a-long,” who just wanted to fit in among friends. Placide, he said, had no role in the operation.

Friedman cautioned jurors not to blame his client for Blanc’s misdeeds. “We may be seated at the same table but it’s not a friendly table,” he said, referring to the proximity of Placide and Blanc in the courtroom.

His comments spurred Serafini to ask U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley to order separate trials for the two men. “It’s like I’m facing two prosecutors,” he said. Hurley declined.

Four of the others indicted in connection with the scheme have pleaded guilty. Marie Claude, 25, of Lantana, and Marie Demesyeux, 29, and Shelda Phadael, 28, both of Lake Worth, are awaiting sentencing. Jean Juste, 24, of West Palm Beach, was sentenced to seven years. Carlton said officers found computers, notebooks filled with people’s stolen identities and debit cards in his residence.

Frank Fleuzinord, 29, of Cape Coral, who was initially arrested for being in the country illegally, recruited women to open bank accounts and get debit cards for the operation, Carlton said.