Former South Dakota football players ran $400K tax refund fraud scheme

Dr. Saturday
Former USD football players, from left: Marquis Butler; Dametrius Turner and Alphonso Valdez, along with 8 others who have pleaded guilty to a tax-refund fraud scheme. (AP Photo/Courtesy University of South Dakota)
Former USD football players, from left: Marquis Butler; Dametrius Turner and Alphonso Valdez, along with 8 others who have pleaded guilty to a tax-refund fraud scheme. (AP Photo/Courtesy University of South Dakota)

Six former members of the University of South Dakota football team have pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges for their involvement in a scheme that attempted to defraud the IRS of $1.1 million. 

The scheme’s ringleader was Alphonso “Rico” Valdez, a former defensive back for the Coyotes. Valdez, five other former football players, and five others pleaded guilty in Sioux Falls. Overall, the scheme "netted about $400,000 over nearly a year."

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According to the Associated Press, Valdez first raised suspicion in April 2012 when he visited an ATM multiple times. Surveillance footage showed that he was “using a preloaded debit card that has been issued for a tax refund” that did not belong to him.

Valdez was sentenced to 61 months in prison on Monday. Others have already received sentences ranging from two years to more than five years in prison. All defendants have also been ordered to pay $421,000 in restitution.

The AP is reporting that Valdez recruited others to help with the scheme that took place between June 2011 and May 2012.

“Valdez recruited students, his girlfriend and others he knew in his hometown of Tampa, Florida, to gather names, addresses, Social Security numbers and other identifying information, federal authorities said of the scheme. They used the data to file fraudulent tax returns, using addresses that weren't associated with the identity theft victims so that members of the scheme could retrieve the refunds.”

Court records show that the group orchestrated the scheme through text messages. “Through texts, Valdez ordered some of his accomplices, including then-defensive back Marquis Butler, to make deposits to Valdez's bank account and check addresses for incoming tax refunds.”

Prosecutors say that Butler “netted the group $85,000.” Additionally, Melissa Dinataly, Valdez’s now ex-girlfriend, “collected more than 30 Social Security numbers” and 12 different false returns “connected her to over $110,000 worth of refunds."

Officials from the University of South Dakota athletic department never suspected illegal activities from the athletes, especially since they never made any extravagant purchases.

"I'm not even sure that any of them had a car while they were here, and if they did, it probably wasn't a nice one," USD athletic director David Herbster said. "They didn't exhibit anything that you would be overly suspicious of as far as somehow coming into an excess amount of money. There were no really nice cars, there was not a lot of fancy clothes, fancy jewelry things like that that would lead you to believe, 'How did you get that?'"

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Sam Cooper is a contributor for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!

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