The proprietor of an East Tampa soul-food restaurant is accused by the Federal government of falsifying scores of tax returns using stolen identities and retrieving the fraudulent refunds via debit card transfers at her restaurant.
Natalie Rene Panko pled guilty last week to one count of conspiracy to commit theft of government funds, three counts of theft of government property, three counts of access device fraud, and three counts of aggravated identity theft. According to federal attorneys, in late 2012 Panko and two other associates filed over six dozen federal tax returns in the name of both living and dead individuals, directing the refunds to be issued in the form of debit cards. These cards, which they allegedly ordered to be sent to Panko’s restaurant, were then used to fraudulently purchase services from the restaurant.
Prosecutors say the funds from the allegedly fraudulent purchases were then sent by the debit card issuers to Panko’s bank account, where she subsequently withdrew the funds and either spent them herself or shared with the co-conspirators.
Panko’s co-conspirators both pled guilty to their alleged participation in the scheme and will be sentenced in the next few months. The 57-year-old Tampa resident has not been given a sentencing date, but she could be sentenced to up to five years in federal prison without parole on the count of conspiracy, ten years without parole on each count of each theft of government property and access device fraud, and a consecutive two-year sentence for aggravated identity theft, also without parole.