Dudley Man Pleads Guilty to Theft and Abuse of COVID-19 Pandemic Assistance | USAO-MA
BOSTON – A man from Dudley pleaded guilty today to his involvement in a scheme to fraudulently obtain and abuse unemployment assistance linked to COVID-19.
Norman Higgs, 34, has pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud conspiracy. United States District Court Judge Patti B. Saris set the sentence for December 17, 2021. Higgs was indicted in May 2021.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) created a federal temporary unemployment insurance program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). PUA, administered by the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance, provides unemployment insurance benefits to people who are not eligible for other types of unemployment benefits (for example, the self-employed, independent contractors, or workers labor economics).
From April to June 2020, Higgs conspired with others to submit fraudulent PUA claims using other people’s stolen credentials. PUA payments were directed to bank accounts controlled by Higgs and others who used the funds for their personal benefit, including to pay off credit card debt and to fund digital currency and retail brokerage accounts in line. In total, Higgs and others have obtained over $ 450,000 in proceeds from over 85 fraudulent PUA claims using stolen identities.
The conspiracy to commit wire fraud charge carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, up to three years of supervised release and a fine of $ 250,000. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based on US sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.
Acting US Attorney Nathaniel R. Mendell; Joseph R. Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston division; and Nikitas Splagounias, Acting Special Agent in charge of the US Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, Bureau of Investigations-Racketeering and Fraud made the announcement. The Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance provided assistance in the investigation. Deputy US attorney Christopher J. Markham of Mendell’s Securities, Financial & Cyber Fraud unit is pursuing the case.
On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General created the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Working Group to mobilize the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with government agencies to strengthen efforts to combat and prevent the pandemic fraud. The Working Group strengthens efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable national and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud, among other methods, by scaling up and integrating mechanisms coordination, identifying resources and techniques for uncovering fraudulent actors and their programs, and sharing and leveraging information and knowledge gained from previous enforcement efforts. For more information on the Department’s response to the pandemic, please visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus.
Anyone with information about alleged attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud Enforcement (NCDF) hotline at 866-720 -5721 or via the NCDF web complaint form at: https: // www. .justice.gov / disaster-fraud / ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.