Delano inmate charged with running drug trafficking, tax fraud scheme

The prisoner managed to run a tax fraud scheme worth over $500 million from his jail cell.

Federal officials announced Friday that they busted an inmate at Kern Valley State Prison for drug trafficking and tax fraud. 

U.S. Attorney Phillip Talbert announced charges against inmate Kristopher Thomas, 36. 


The backstory: Thomas has been incarcerated since 2010, when he was convicted of a gang-related first-degree murder. 

  • He is a long-time member of South Los Angeles street gang Main Street Mafia Crips. 

The big picture: Court documents reveal that the Drug Enforcement Administration began a wiretap investigation into a methamphetamine trafficking operation run out of Kern Valley State Prison. 

  • Agents reviewed calls that Thomas made on a prison-issued tablet to numerous romantic partners, family members and others believed to be involved in drug trafficking. 
  • They also intercepted Thomas sending and receiving text messages about what appeared to be a tax fraud scheme. The text messages contained screenshots of tax information for many businesses with tax refund amounts. 
  • Thomas is charged in two separate complaints with drug trafficking and COVID-19 tax fraud. 
  • He faces 10 years to life in prison for the drug charges, and five years in prison for the tax fraud. 

Drug trafficking charges: Thomas led a drug trafficking operation that shipped large quantities of methamphetamine to Hawaii, Oklahoma, Alabama, New Jersey and other places, as well as smuggling fentanyl into Kern Valley State Prison. 

  • Agents seized over 90 pounds of methamphetamine in Hawaii, leading to the wiretap investigation into multiple contraband cellphones Thomas had in the Delano prison. 
  • Agents then seized an additional 40 pounds of methamphetamine, over 14 pounds of fentanyl, 9.5 pounds of heroin and 8.5 pounds of cocaine. They also seized half a pound of fentanyl in the prison after Thomas had it smuggled in. 
  • Along with Thomas, the others facing charges are Justin Mitchell, 31, of Los Angeles; Derrick Charles, 41, a former inmate at Kern Valley State Prison; Natasha Bailey, 44, of Bakersfield; Antrell Maeshack, 41, of Santa Clarita; and Marie Joo-Yeon Choi, 29, of Los Angeles. 

Tax scheme: Thomas is also accused of leading a multi-million-dollar tax refund fraud scheme where he filed payroll tax returns with the IRS that claimed Employee Retention Credits for businesses that were not entitled to receive the credits. Those businesses would then receive large tax refunds. 

  • Employee Retention Credits were available during the COVID-19 pandemic as a refundable federal tax credit for employers to encourage businesses to keep employees on their payrolls. 
  • The others facing charges over the tax fraud are his mother, Ketisha Thompson-Dozier, 55; her spouse Charmane Dozier, 44; and Sharon Vance, 36, of Hawthorne. His mother and her spouse are both from Waldorf, Maryland. 
  • Thomas and his co-conspirators filed hundreds of payroll tax returns that claimed over $550 million in tax refunds. The returns were for fake businesses as well as actual businesses with overstated wages and employee numbers, as well as defunct businesses. 
  • The defendants used the tax refunds for improper personal expenditures, including Thomas paying for his family members and friends to be driven from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, where they partied at a luxury penthouse and then flew back on a private jet. Thomas paid for that to celebrate his birthday. 

What they’re saying: “It is remarkable that a prison inmate coordinated with others on the outside to distribute over 100 pounds of methamphetamine into the community,” Talbert said. “But that apparently was not enough: he also conspired to pursue over half a billion dollars in federal tax credits that were meant to help struggling businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to combatting organized crime whether it is drug trafficking or theft of taxpayer money, and whether it is committed inside or outside of prisons.”

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