As many as 20 members of the Irish traveling community in South Carolina--22 people in total-- were indicted on Tuesday, August 16, on 45 counts of fraud and money-laundering schemes.
Those accused are reported to be residents of the 1,400 strong Irish traveler community in Murphy Village, North Augusta, Aiken County, and were charged under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) for acts of fraud including schemes to obtain life insurance benefits, food stamps and Medicaid funds, and committed fraud involving automobile financing.
According to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Columbia, all 22 indicted are charged with crimes under RICO while some are also charged with mail fraud, wire fraud, structuring monetary transactions to evade reporting requirements, or interstate transportation of stolen items.
If found guilty, 20 years is the maximum prison sentence for a crime under RICO along with a $250,000 fine. Mail and wire fraud and transportation of stolen vehicles across state lines also hold the same maximum sentence while structures developed to evade reporting money carries a maximum sentence of five years and a $250,000 fine.
The defendants have not yet been arrested in an investigation that included the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Marshal’s Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General, the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigative Division, the Postal Inspection Service, the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office Medicaid Fraud Control Unit and the state Department of Social Services.
The indictment instead issued the 22 accused with a summons to appear in court, with the first court date expected to take place in as little as two weeks.
“Many of the defendant's … own large homes, luxury cars, and expensive jewelry and clothes, which are often acquired through the fraud schemes or acquired with the proceeds of the fraud schemes,” the indictment read.
“This criminal organization (classified as an “enterprise” under federal law) … constitutes an ongoing organization whose members functioned as a continuing unit for the common purpose of achieving the objectives of the criminal Enterprise.”
The defendants also stand accused of acquiring food stamps and Medicare through fraud, by misrepresenting their income and financial situation on applications.
The indictment states that the government seek to seize money, property and vehicles obtained by the defendants through these fraudulent means, including 25 cars and five properties all located within two miles of each other. Their crimes are believed to have been committed mainly in other states, however, financing cars in Georgia, North Carolina, and New York.
Similar accusations have been made against the Murphy Village community previously, while Union County Sheriff David Taylor recently published an article warning residents to be on the lookout for Irish Travelers leaving business cards.
In their local area, however, the residents are praised for being honest and hardworking with a few black sheep among them drawing unwanted negative attention onto the otherwise reclusive community. Keeping to their own homes, the Murphy Village community rarely show signs of life with tinted windows or shutters covering their houses. They remove their children from school around eighth grade to prevent them from straying outside the community, something they feel would threaten their lifestyle, reports TheState.com.
According the the US census there are somewhere between 10,000 and 40,000 Irish travelers living in the US, Murphy Village making up one of the largest communities nationwide. The accused are said to speak “Cant” a dialect mixing English and Irish as well as American English.
The long-term, multi-agency federal investigation into the 22 named on Tuesday is believed to have spanned at least five years, with the earliest evidence citing mail fraud for food stamp benefits in October of 2011 and evading reporting a death benefits check received in June of the same year.