FRESNO (CBS SF) – Two people, including an inmate at a prison in the Central Valley, have pled guilty in connection with a scheme defrauding the California Employment Development Department (EDD) out of $100,000 in COVID-19 unemployment benefits.
Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip Talbert announced that 51-year-old Jason Vertz of Fresno and 45-year-old Alana Powers, an inmate at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, both pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and aggravated identity theft. Vertz was arrested and arraigned on the charges last month.READ MORE: Looming La Niña May Push Western Drought From Bad to Worse
Court documents said that the pair submitted several fraudulent unemployment insurance claims to EDD in Powers’ name and the names of other inmates at the prison. Phone calls recorded at the prison and emails showed Powers and the inmates provided names, dates of birth along with Social Security numbers to Vertz to submit the claims.READ MORE: Update: Fawn Fire Near Redding Grows To 7,500 Acres Overnight; Firefighters Look To Cooler Weather
The inmates claimed in their applications that they were working as maids, cleaners, fabrication welders and other occupations, the documents said. Unemployment benefits were loaded onto debit cards mailed to addresses provided by the defendants.
According to prosecutors, EDD and the United States suffered an actual loss of $103,000 in the fraud.MORE NEWS: Air Quality Advisory Extended Through Monday Due To Wildfire Smoke
Vertz and Powers are expected to be sentenced on July 6. The pair face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the conspiracy to commit mail fraud charge. For the charge of identity theft, Vertz and Powers face a mandatory two-year sentence consecutive to any other sentence they receive.