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Number of Dependents: Um . . . 1,100

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

In one of the more elaborate postal scams authorities have uncovered, a Costa Mesa man filed at least 1,100 bogus income tax returns, using names of grade school and high school students nationwide.

Farid Ghasemi, 34, pleaded guilty late Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana to charges of filing false tax claims and of possessing unauthorized credit cards.

Using students’ names without their knowledge, Ghasemi sought more than $2.5 million in refunds from the Internal Revenue Service, according to Assistant U.S. Atty. Susan R. Ficcadenti.

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“There are people who use false names in [tax] claims, but the scale of this is one of the largest ones that’s ever been detected,” she said.

Ghasemi has admitted that he had opened numerous post office boxes to receive the illegal refund checks.

In a search of his car, his home and Ghasemi himself, authorities found 78 post office box keys, 93 uncashed IRS refund checks, 13 California driver’s licenses with his photograph and false names on them, and more than 100 unauthorized credit cards and automated teller machine cards.

Ghasemi, detained without bail since his arrest April 15, waived his right to indictment and acknowledged his crime early in the investigation.

“He is looking to put this behind him and get on with his life,” said his lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Craig Wilke. “He admitted to his crime and is ready to face the penalty. We expect that he will be going to prison.”

He faces 60 years in prison and fines totaling $2.75 million at his sentencing, scheduled for Sept. 22 before U.S. District Judge Gary L. Taylor.

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“I believe they caught it so early that we stopped him before the government lost very much money,” Ficcadenti said. But she wouldn’t say how much was lost.

Wilke said the IRS issued checks totaling $203,904, but he declined to say whether Ghasemi cashed any of them.

Meanwhile, the investigation is continuing, said Susan Watson, a U.S. postal inspector. Since Ghasemi’s plea agreement, Watson said, she has found three more post office boxes that Ghasemi had opened under other names, bringing the total to 81.

“It’s the most elaborate in terms of using so many changes of address and postal boxes,” she said. “There’s one other similar case in the nation, but it’s not this elaborate.”

From November 1994 to the end of February this year, Ghasemi worked at an Orange County company that provided schools across the nation with software to handle student attendance, grading, counseling and other records.

When schools had problems with the software, Watson said, they called the company. Ghasemi, a computer technician, often had the schools download the information onto disks and send them in for him to fix, she said.

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He then took from the disks the names and Social Security numbers of elementary and high school students, mainly from small towns such as Sandusky, Mich., Hopeville, Ga., and Halifax, Pa., she said.

He created new identities with different addresses in the same towns, she said.

“When we started interviewing people [nationwide], the parents were shocked,” Watson said. “When those kids go to apply for credit six or seven years from now, they may find that it’s going to be difficult to get.”

Most of the tax returns were simple filings and typically sought refunds of $2,000 each, authorities said. As he sent the returns to the IRS, he filed change-of-address forms in the small towns, directing that mail for the newly created addresses be shipped to post office boxes in Orange County.

“We found out about this because the postal workers in the small town of Halifax noticed the change of address form and knew the people,” Watson said. “And they knew that the people still lived in town and didn’t live at the address he had put down.”

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