- Associated Press - Thursday, October 30, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Five Richland County deputies have been fired because they filed tax returns with fake dependents to defraud the government, Sheriff Leon Lott said Thursday.

The deputies are charged with tax fraud after filing returns through Maribel Crespo, who was fired from the sheriff’s office in 2010 for identification fraud, Lott said at a news conference.

“That’s what probably makes me the maddest. After the deputies knew we arrested her and convicted her, they continued to go to her,” Lott said.

Crespo stole the identities of Hispanic people, then had the deputies claim them as dependents. All together, the returns likely brought in $100,000 of improper refunds, but a lot of that money never made it to the scheming officers, the sheriff said.

“One thing they didn’t know: She was having the money sent to her and she was keeping quite a bit of it,” Lott said.

Crespo is charged with 13 counts of tax fraud and remains in the Richland County jail. Jail officials didn’t know if she had a lawyer.

The deputies charged and fired were Valerie Gibson, 53; Eddie West, 29; Cedric Jacobs, 40; Bobby Cohens, 42; and Vivian Belton, 48. All had been with the sheriff’s office at least seven years, Lott said. Officials didn’t know if they had lawyers.

More charges may be filed by other police agencies against the suspects, Lott said.

The sheriff said his investigators were able to crack the case because Crespo bragged about getting the fraudulent returns to other people.

“While it was a complicated case, she was not a mastermind,” Lott said. “That’s why we are standing here today.”

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