FRESNO (CBS SF) — A Fresno man and an inmate at a Northern California women’s prison were sentenced Monday to five years and one month in prison for submitting fake unemployment insurance claims to California’s Employment Development Department (EDD).
Jason Vertz, 51, and Alana Powers, 45, an inmate at the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) in Chowchilla were sentenced after being convicted of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and aggravated identity theft, according to a press statement from Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California Phillip Talbert.
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Prosecutors said Vertz and Powers submitted fake unemployment claims in Powers’ and other CCWF inmates’ names to the EDD. According to court documents, recorded jail calls and emails show that Powers and other inmates provided names, dates of birth, and social security numbers for inmates at CCWF to Vertz to submit the fraudulent claims. The EDD awarded the benefits which were loaded onto debit cards and mailed to the addresses Vertz and Powers provided.
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The fake EDD applications stated that the inmates had worked as maids, cleaners, fabrication welders, among other occupations, and that they were available to work, which was not true because they were incarcerated. More than $74,000 was paid out as a result of the fraud, according to the press release.
Since the start of the COVID pandemic, widespread fraudulent EDD claims have totaled in the billions of dollars and the suspension of unemployment benefits to the hundreds of thousands of Californians affected.
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Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 was urged to report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.