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Duluth woman charged with tax fraud, identity theft

Minnesota Revenue agents said Jody Vaughn-Bey falsified information and forged signatures to collect more than $20,000 in renters' refunds.

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DULUTH โ€” A woman allegedly received more than $20,000 in fraudulent property tax refunds filed in the names of more than a dozen other people.

Jody Kay Vaughn-Bey, 60, of Duluth, has been summoned to appear in State District Court next month on 17 felony charges as the result of an investigation undertaken by the Minnesota Department of Revenue.

Jody Kay Vaughn-Bey
Jody Kay Vaughn-Bey

Authorities allege that Vaughn-Bey falsified information and forged signatures of both landlords and tenants on Renter's Property Tax Refund forms between 2018 and 2022, receiving a number of direct deposits into her banking account.

Minnesota tax code allows renters to request a property tax refund based on the amount of rent they have paid for a primary residence in a given year if they meet certain financial and income requirements. Renters are required to provide their full legal name, address, birthdate and Social Security number, and the document must be accompanied by a valid certificate from their landlord confirming their residency and rent payments.

A criminal complaint states that the case came to the attention of Revenue officials in August 2021, when a woman reported that her identity had been stolen and said she believed Vaughn-Bey was responsible for filing a false refund in her name.

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Kevin Navara, a criminal investigator for the state taxing agency, determined that Vaughn-Bey had never filed a Minnesota income tax refund but did seek property tax refunds every year since 2015. A subpoena of her account records from Members Cooperative Credit Union allegedly confirmed she had received the fraudulent refund, totaling $1,662.

The complaint states that Navara then established a protocol that involved locating returns with Vaughn-Bey's banking information and attempting to find the purported taxpayers who names appeared on the forms. He would follow up with those individuals to ask if they received any or all of the funds, and also approach landlords to vet the authenticity of their certificates.

The investigation allegedly uncovered claims filed by Vaughn-Bey in the names of 15 other people, some of whom were acquainted with the defendant and others who said they were not. The refunds ranged from approximately $1,100-$1,600, and some of the victims had claims filed in their names in multiple years, according to the complaint.

While not all tenants and landlords could be reached by Navara, many reported that the forms were fraudulent, and in some cases the people didn't even live in the same city. The complaint states that the certificates were also generally handwritten, whereas the landlords stated that they provide computerized forms.

Numerous people reportedly told the investigator that their signatures were forged, and at least one purported tenant's name was repeatedly misspelled on claims filed in multiple years. Some of the claims had been flagged as suspicious and were not paid out.

The complaint adds that one Superior woman, who had known Vaughn-Bey but "no longer associates" with her, stated that the defendant had told her at one point that she was filing false returns. The woman said she told Vaughn-Bey that she was "crazy" and would get caught, but she allegedly responded by asserting that she "would never get caught."

Vaughn-Bey also is accused of altering a certificate filed in her own name, crossing out typed figures and handwriting a "much higher refund" amount along with a landlord's initials. That $1,409 claim was flagged by Revenue officials and not deposited.

Vaughn-Bey, formerly known as Jody Kay Ross, has a prior felony conviction for third-degree sale of a controlled substance and has been adjudicated for a number of lower-level offenses related to theft, fraud and property damage over more than 30 years, according to a check of court records.

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She is charged with identity theft and 16 counts of filing false tax returns. She remains free, with an initial court appearance set for April 24.

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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