The Justice Department has indicted eight people for submitting more than $25 million in fraudulent unemployment insurance claims in the identities of inmates, underage children and others to the California Employment Development Department (EDD) during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a DOJ press release.
The initial indictment charged Daryol Richmond, 30, held at Kern Valley State Prison; Telvin Breaux, 29, inmate at the California Correctional Facility in Tehachapi; and Holly White, 30, of Los Angeles, with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and aggravated identity theft.
A replacement indictment announced Friday adds Cecelia Allen, 33, of Downey; Fantasia Brown, 33, of Los Angeles; Tonisha Brown, 28, of Los Angeles; Fantesia Davis, 32, of Victorville; and Shanice White, 28, of Hawthorne.
They are also charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and aggravated identity theft. Richmond and Breaux are being held at Kern Valley State Prison and the California Correctional Institute, respectively. The other defendants reside in the Southern California area.
The claims underlying the claims incorrectly stated that the inmates, underage children and others previously worked as clothing dealers, handymen and other jobs, and recently found themselves unemployed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to court documents.
The defendants created fictitious email accounts and used different physical addresses in Southern California for the fraudulent claims, DOJ officials said.
After receiving the debit cards for the claims in the mail, the defendants made cash withdrawals at different locations, on different days and times and for varying amounts, in order to avoid being discovered by the government authorities.
The actual loss to EDD and the United States is over $5 million. The defendants spent the money on vehicles, furniture, handbags, jewelry and other items and services.
This case is the product of an investigation by the FBI, EDD, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General, and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
If the defendants are convicted of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, they each face a maximum statutory sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. If convicted of aggravated identity theft, they each face a mandatory two-year consecutive sentence.