Katrina Pierce, 50, was charged with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in a 34-page complaint made public Thursday.
Prosecutors claim her fraud scheme was first discovered in late 2019 by the Cook County Vital Records Bureau, which noticed Pierce had requested four death certificates in one day while claiming to be the sister of each victim, despite having different surnames.
A subsequent records check revealed that Pierce had requested 37 death certificates in 2019, obtaining at least 26 of them, according to the complaint.
“The director then researched the backgrounds of the decedents and found that all of them were homicide victims, ranging in age from about 2 years to 22 years, from the south and west sides of Chicago,” the complaint reads.
The director believed Pierce targeted her victims because they’d be less likely to have credit history and that she may have tried opening accounts using their identities, prosecutors said.
Amari Brown, a 7-year-old Chicago boy fatally shot in 2015, was allegedly among Pierce’s victims. She falsely claimed she was his aunt when obtaining his death certificate in 2019 and then used the stolen info to file a fraudulent tax return that led to a $4,407 refund check from the IRS, prosecutors said.
“Why would someone want to do this?” Amari’s aunt, Andrina Hailey, told WLS-TV, accusing Pierce of reopening the family’s wounds. “It’s very sensitive to us, and we just think it’s disgusting.”
IRS agents went to Pierce’s listed return address in her applications in January 2020 and found handwritten notes listing the names of dead people as well as their manner of death, including “shot,” “killed” or “stabbed,” the complaint states.
Investigators said Pierce also sought personal information of decedents in St. Louis, including a homicide victim to fraudulently obtain COVID-19 stimulus payments and a prepaid debit card in his name.
Prosecutors said Pierce had several bank accounts using various names to hide her scheme. She deposited nearly $84,000 into one of the accounts over a six-month period last year ending in December – or more than twice the amount of her total income reported on her tax return, according to the complaint.
Pierce was arrested Tuesday and appeared before a judge who ordered her held pending trial, according to court records cited by the Chicago Tribune. Her preliminary hearing is set for Tuesday.
In 2012, Pierce was sentenced to 11 years in federal prison for using stolen identities and other bogus documents to bilk more than $200,000 in federal tax refunds and state child-care benefits, the newspaper reported.
Prosecutors at the time called her a “career con artist” who graduated from shoplifting as a teen before launching forgery, food stamp and identity theft schemes.
“Stealing was [her] full-time occupation and she was good at it,” prosecutors reportedly wrote in her prior sentencing memo. Pierce was still on supervised release from the case when she was arrested, court records show. Her court-appointed attorney could not be reached for comment, the Tribune reported.