A Chester County couple paid hospital workers to steal patients' personal information, then used it in a scheme to steal $1.7 million in tax refunds, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Rafael Henriquez Polanco and Yanira Lopez pilfered the identities of at least 144 people, including patients at Community Hospital in Chester and Crozer-Chester Medical Center in Upland, between 2008 and 2011, according to charging documents filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.

Prosecutors said Polanco, 30, and Lopez, 27, paid hospital workers to steal confidential forms that listed patients' names, birth dates, and Social Security numbers, then used the information to file fraudulent returns.

The couple netted more than $253,000 in the plot, directing the ill-gotten refunds to bank accounts they had set up or homes they controlled in Philadelphia and Chester, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. Some, prosecutors said, were also used as "grow homes" to cultivate marijuana.

The six-count charging document outlines counts of conspiracy, aggravated identity theft, passport fraud, and other crimes.

The court records did not identify the conspirators inside the hospitals. Nor do they indicate when the scheme began or was discovered, or if affected patients were notified. Both hospitals are part of the Crozer-Keystone network.

Patty Hartman, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger, said the hospitals had been cooperating with investigators. No one else has been charged, she said, but the probe continues.

Grant Gegwich, a Crozer spokesman, said the hospitals were notified about the information theft in October 2011. Two workers have since been fired and the hospitals changed policies regarding the handling of patient information, he said in a statement.

Polanco, illegally in the country from the Dominican Republic, has been detained since last year on federal cocaine trafficking charges. It was not clear how those charges related to the fraud case.

His lawyer, Evan Kelly, said Tuesday that Polanco would plead guilty to tax fraud, but declined to say more.

The charging documents suggest Lopez also intends to plead guilty to the tax fraud, but her lawyer, Joseph Green Jr., declined to comment. A former bank teller, she also faces additional charges of claiming unemployment benefits while working a job under a different name.

Lopez has not been arrested and is expected to be arraigned in coming weeks, Hartman said.

Contact John P. Martin at 215-925-2649, at jmartin@phillynews.com or @JPMartinInky on Twitter.