Sioux Falls, SD
Four former University of South Dakota football players, and two other defendants, appeared in Sioux Falls federal court Monday, accused of stealing identities and filing bogus tax returns.
Many of the students are from Florida but Monday was their first time appearing in South Dakota court.
A total of nine people were arrested back in November on conspiracy and aggravated identity theft charges. Six of them have ties to USD but only one of them is still enrolled there.
They were caught after an officer on the Vermillion Police Department noticed a suspicious subject at a local ATM this spring. That tip led to the discovery of the organized crime that was being run right out of a USD dorm room.
Charlie Adams, 21, and former University of South Dakota football player Jeremy Blount, 24, were just two of the six who appeared in federal court Monday in Sioux Falls on charges of Conspiracy to Defraud the United States and Aggravated Identity Theft.
Christopher Frierson, 21, also made his first court appearance Monday. Frierson was on the USD football team earlier this year, but left for violating team rules unrelated to the federal charge that he now faces.
Court documents say the three men along with 22-year-old Marquis Butler and 21-year-old Alphonso 'Rico' Valdez, who appeared in court Monday as well, worked together to gather up names, birthdates and social security numbers and file fake tax returns. The five men along with four others cashed in a half million dollars worth of bogus tax refunds before they were caught.
The case was cracked in April by a Vermillion Police officer investigating a suspicious person at a local ATM. Authorities say Alphonso 'Rico' Valdez was trying to withdraw $900 from a preloaded debit card.
The investigation led them to a USD dorm room. There detectives say they found at least one instance where the men collected more than $7,000 after filing a fake return. That discovery launched a more than six-month investigation. Two others charged in the case, former Student Government Association President Terry Liggins and USD football player Christopher Lundy, were in court last month.
If convicted, the men could face up to a dozen years in federal prison.
Melissa Dinataly, 22, of Tampa, Florida, also appeared in court in South Dakota Monday. She has no connection to USD.
Another man, Raunta Ellison, also has no connection to USD and has not appeared in court yet.
Everyone who was in court Monday pleaded not guilty to the charges.