TAMPA, Fla. -- Hillsborough deputies say they are easy and anonymous crimes, ones that can be committed from anywhere, even from behind bars: fraud and personal identification theft.
An inmate at the Hillsborough County Jail on Orient Road, 28-year-old Jason Whitfield, has been charged on four counts of attempting tax fraud and personal identification theft for stealing Social Security numbers, birth dates, and names of four individuals. Deputies say one of the victims is a man Whitfield is accused of murdering last October.
Two of the victims are fellow inmates, another victim is a former inmate now serving time at another Florida jail, and the fourth victim is 27-year-old Michael Massaline, the man Whitfield is accused of shooting to death on October 24, 2011.
Deputies say Whitfield planned to use the information to file fraudulent tax returns. It's personal information, deputies say, that is easy to get in jail.
Detective Bruce Crumpler with the Division of Economic Crimes section of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office says, "In a jail, there's accessibility to things. There are no bars like there used to be. It's an open pod mentality. Inmates are given legal documents with personal information on it. Sometimes they are left unattended and inmates know that."
The supervisor of the jail's detention security team says an inside tip alerted officials to Whitfield's alleged fraudulent activities. Deputy Steven Gray says fraud is a common crime in jail. "It's growing worse and worse. This year is worse than last year. You are talking one or two names from one inmate, but running into inmates that may have hundreds of names -- that's huge," he says.
Gray says one inmate teaches the other how to carry out the crime and it "spreads like a cancer."
Deputies say it's also common for inmates to sell their own personal information for extra cash in jail. Whitfield reportedly gave the personal information he obtained to someone on the outside with detailed steps on how to file the fraudulent tax forms. Right now, deputies say it does not appear any of the forms have been filed.