Five women have been indicted by a DeKalb County grand jury for racketeering in what prosecutors call an elaborate scheme to steal state tax refund checks from the Georgia Department of Revenue.

The ringleader was hired as a temporary employee to process those checks, despite her criminal past, said District Attorney Robert James.

“It’s essential that they’re honest and that they have clean backgrounds because they’re handling our money,” said James.

Lisa Darden is accused of leading the ring.

Darden stole 27 refund checks meant for individuals and businesses, according to prosecutors with DeKalb’s Public Integrity Unit. The checks totaled more than $100,000.

“She would take those checks and provide them to other individuals. Those individuals would cash the checks. In return, they would receive a percentage,” said James.

Prosecutors obtained arrest warrants for Darden, Jamecko Moore, Doris Elliot, Seanterri Underwood and Javada Heath.

The state couldn’t say whether the victims ever even knew why their refunds were delayed.

“It’s particularly important during these dire economic times when people are depending on tax returns to fund their households,” said James.

Channel 2 first reported on a huge backlog of tax refunds waiting to be processed in 2009. That’s when the state hired 70 temporary workers to help. Darden was placed by a company called Abacus. Their website claims they conduct an “in-depth criminal background check on each and every Abacus candidate.”

James said he also uses temporary employees in his office but does not rely on the temp agency to check them out. He has his own employees do background checks.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer checked Darden’s record on DeKalb County’s public justice system website and found arrests dating back to 1995. Darden has pleaded guilty to theft and forgery and was even on probation when this case happened.

“I hope that whatever the problem was is fixed,” said James.

The Department of Revenue confirmed that it has changed its policy since this case. Its own internal investigators now check the background of all temporary employees before they are hired.

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