While serving time in a federal prison in Bennettsville, Thomas J. Dalton organized a scheme that tried to fleece $1.43 million from the government by filing more than 160 fraudulent tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service, authorities said.

U.S. District Judge Terry L. Wooten sentenced Dalton, 51, of Moncks Corner, to 10 years in prison Thursday according to a statement released Monday by Bill Nettles, U.S. Attorney for South Carolina.

Dalton had pleaded guilty in February to a charge of conspiring to defraud the United States through the submission of false claims. The 10-year sentence, handed down in Florence, will be served after Dalton completes an eight-year, nine-month sentence for a 2003 conviction of credit card fraud. Dalton also must repay $356,320.

The fraud was uncovered after a bank security officer in South Carolina noticed suspicious activity and called the Secret Service, said Special Agent Alan Cornett of the IRS's Criminal Investigations Division's Columbia office.

IRS and Secret Service agents worked together to identify the participants of the scheme and the extent of their involvement. The government paid out more than $415,000 in refunds before the scheme was uncovered.

According to court records, agents found financial records, tax records and lists of personal identifier information when they searched Dalton's personal effects locker at the Federal Correctional Institute in Bennettsville, a medium-security prison in Marlboro County.

Dalton persuaded fellow inmates to link him up with relatives and friends on the outside who would act as conduits for the refunds, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Dean A. Eichelberger. Some of the false returns were filed in the names of people who were part of the conspiracy, Eichelberger said, but many were filed in the names of people who were completely unaware of the scheme.

During his sentencing hearing, Dalton said he first started his tax scheme while serving yet another federal sentence for a 1998 credit card fraud conviction, Eichelberger said.

Dalton, who was living in Ladson at the time, pleaded guilty after being accused of using credit card information retrieved from trash cans and from his job as a reservations clerk for a major hotel chain to buy more than $1,000 worth of computer equipment.

Three co-defendants have previously been sentenced for their roles in the case: Randall Lewis Smith, 50, of Summerville; Georgia M. Adams, 55, of Harleyville; and Misha Danyell Cleckley, 34, of Orangeburg. Cleckley and Adams were each given probation for five years, and Smith received a prison sentence of one year and one day, Eichelberger said.