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Men get prison in case with ex-USD athletes

Two Florida men accused of participating in a scheme in which former University of South Dakota athletes and others used stolen identities to fraudulently collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax refunds were sentenced to federal prison Monday.

U.S. District Judge Karen E. Schreier ordered Raunta Ellison to serve 5 years and 1 month in prison, while Dametrius Turner, a former cornerback for the Coyotes, was sentenced to 3 1/2 years.

Prosecutors say Ellison, 25, and Turner, 23, were among 11 people who participated in a ring that stole people’s identities and filed bogus income tax returns showing about $1.1 million in refunds due, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office in South Dakota. The Internal Revenue Service paid fraudulent refunds of about $500,000 before the scheme was uncovered.

Seven of the 11 people have ties to the University of South Dakota. Six, including the alleged ring leader, Alphonso “Rico” Valdez, played for the school’s football team. Another former student was part of the track and field team and student body president.

The ring was indicted in 2012. Four people, all from Tampa, Fla., have since pleaded guilty. Ellison, Turner and co-defendant Charlie Frank Adams, 23, who was sentenced in January, have been ordered to pay the IRS and ID theft victims nearly $422,000. Valdez’ former girlfriend, Melissa Dinataly, 23, was sentenced to two years in prison in June.

Seven co-defendants are expected to face trial before the end of the year.

Prosecutors say Valdez recruited students at USD and people he knew in Tampa to gather names, addresses and other identifying information, and used that information to fi le the fraudulent tax returns.