California woman stole $500,000 in pandemic aid using prisoners’ names, feds say

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A Victorville woman was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of stealing more than $500,000 in pandemic unemployment assistance by posing as people incarcerated in California state prisons, federal authorities said .

Cynthia Ann Hernandez, 32, also known as Cynthia Roberts, is charged with four counts of mail fraud, two counts of aggravated identity theft and one count of access device fraud over 1 $000, according to a federal grand jury indictment filed Thursday.

From June to August 2020, Hernandez filed fraudulent claims for pandemic-related unemployment insurance benefits with the California Employment Development Department, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, which serves seven counties including Los Angeles. , Orange and Riverside. .

She used the names of people incarcerated in the state prison system in the applications, saying the applicants lived in Los Angeles and Orange counties, prosecutors said.

State officials authorized Bank of America to issue debit cards in the names of the people listed in the applications, prosecutors said. The cards were mailed to Hernandez, who allegedly used the cards to withdraw cash from ATMs and banking centers.

In total, Hernandez filed at least 29 fraudulent claims, “resulting in losses for EDD and the [U.S. Department of the Treasury] of approximately $515,138,” prosecutors said.

She is due to be arraigned in U.S. District Court in Riverside on Thursday.

Hernandez’s arrest comes as state and federal authorities continue to investigate widespread fraud related to the pandemic.

State officials announced in June that they had recovered $1.1 billion in illegally obtained unemployment insurance funds.

“Fraudsters and criminal organizations have ripped off California, along with every other state, in one of the worst crises in history,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said at the time. “We are taking aggressive action to return this money to taxpayers.”

EDD officials were swamped with jobless claims at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic after Newsom issued the first statewide stay-at-home order, which forced to many businesses to close.

Since then, the agency has received at least 26.4 million claims and paid out $180 billion in benefits. But about $20 billion of those payments went to crooks who impersonated prison inmates — or, in one case, pretended to be Senator Dianne Feinstein — to trick state officials. by sending them checks.

Among the most publicized fraud cases was that of Richard Ayvazyan, his wife, Marietta Terabelian, and his sister-in-law Tamara Dadyan.

The Tarzana couple and a family member operated a huge COVID-19 relief fraud ring that netted $18 million in a scam to get emergency pandemic loans for small businesses upended by shutdowns .

Their operation did not involve unemployment insurance fraud.

The trio were eventually captured in February in Montenegro, where they lived a life of luxury while hiding from the FBI.

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Los Angeles Times

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