SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — Four women have been charged for their alleged roles in three separate schemes targeting California’s Employment Development Department.
Two former EDD employees, an inmate and a parolee all face charges after taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in unemployment insurance benefits meant for those affected by the pandemic shutdowns.
U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott said the collective arrests “may prove to be the largest fraud scheme ever perpetrated against the taxpayers in California history.”
The Department of Justice reports former EDD employee Andrea Gervais of Roseville is accused of mail fraud.
She faces charges for allegedly obtaining money by filing around 100 fraudulent unemployment assistance claims using other people’s names. In one instance, she used the identity of a sitting U.S. senator and was able to obtain a Bank of America debit card in the senator’s name.
On Thursday night, Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, released a statement on the scheme, criticizing the EDD and identifying Sen. Dianne Feinstein and the name used by Gervais.
“Think about this for a minute: EDD issues a debit card to Senator Dianne Feinstein! How does that happen? I’ll tell you how, EDD is complicit in the fraud by mailing out Social Security numbers to scammers; or they are utterly incompetent by not even checking eligibility before they issue the debit card. Either way, EDD has aided and abetted the fraud,” the assemblyman wrote.
The DOJ says in total, over $200,000 in unemployment benefits were paid out to Gervais’ address.
San Diego resident and former EDD employee 40-year-old Nyika Gomez was arrested Thursday and charged with fraud and identity theft, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California.
Gomez’s boyfriend, a California State Prison, Sacramento inmate facing 94 years to life in prison for murder, helped her get the personal information of fellow prisoners in order to submit fraudulent unemployment claims, according to the attorney’s office. She is also accused of buying the stolen information of out-of-state residents to submit fraudulent claims.
Surveillance video captured at ATMs showed Gomez using the debit cards she was sent through the scheme to get money for herself and the prisoners whose information she used.
Chowchilla inmate Sholanda Thomas and parolee Christina Smith were also indicted, accused of submitting several fraudulent EDD unemployment insurance claims in Thomas’ and other inmates’ names, according to the DOJ.
“The underlying applications for the claims falsely stated that the inmates had worked within the prescribed period as hairstylists, barbers, and other occupations and that they were available to work which was not true because they were incarcerated,” said U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott.
The charges are expected to be the first of many as investigators continue looking into fraudulent claims at the department.
The cases announced Thursday were investigated by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General, the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the EDD.
“EDD has enhanced its fraud detection and prevention tools to ensure only valid claimants receive timely benefits,” Nancy Farias, chief deputy director of external affairs for the Employment Development Department, said in a news release. “We will work with law enforcement to hold those accountable who seek to defraud the unemployment system.”
If convicted, all four suspects face at least 20 years in prison.
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