Five plead guilty to pandemic unemployment fraud and mail fraud | USAO-WDVA
ABINGDON, Virginia – Five residents of Southwest Virginia who conspired with more than 30 others to defraud the United States government by filing fraudulent claims for more than $ 499,000 in pandemic unemployment benefits, in mail fraud and related offenses pleaded guilty this week and last time in a United States district court in Abingdon.
According to court documents, Patrick Payne, 43, Randall Johnson, 42, Steven Mullins Jr., 33, Curtis Mullins, 25, and Melinda Davis, 58, conspired with others to file claims for benefits for unemployment in the event of a pandemic through the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) website. The program involved submitting claims for various people who were not eligible to receive pandemic unemployment benefits, including many inmates held in regional jails in southwest Virginia. To date, 19 of the co-conspirators have pleaded guilty for their role in the larger plot.
Members of the conspiracy lied about the statements as part of the scheme to make filers appear eligible for benefits. Since pandemic unemployment benefits were paid weekly, each of these statements rechecked and recertified the false statements numerous times throughout the program.
In total, the conspiracy filed fraudulent claims for approximately 37 people, resulting in the payment of at least $ 499,000 in false claims. In addition to the defendants, eight co-conspirators have already entered into plea deals with the United States.
“These five individuals used a series of carefully orchestrated lies to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars destined for Virginians struggling with a unique global health pandemic,” Acting United States Prosecutor Daniel P said today. Bubar. “The Department of Justice is grateful to the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Labor, and the Virginia Employment Commission for their hard work and commitment to investigating these cases and bringing these people to justice.”
“Investigating those who fraudulently take funds from pandemic relief programs will continue to be a priority for IRS-CI. These programs were put in place to help those going through the global crisis, and should not be used for personal enrichment, ”said Darrell J. Waldon, Acting Special Agent in charge of the UK’s field office. IRS-CI in Washington DC.
Patrick Payne, Randall Johnson, Steven Mullins Jr., Curtis Mullins and Melinda Davis, conspired with others to defraud the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program by claiming and receiving benefits which they and others were not entitled. The Office of the Inspector General of the United States Department of Labor is grateful for our partnerships with the Virginia Employment Commission and our many law enforcement partners. We would also like to thank the United States Attorney’s Office for its continued efforts to prosecute those who violate public interest programs and commit fraud, ”said Syreeta Scott, Special Agent in charge of the Philadelphia area, Office of the Inspector General of the United States Department of Labor.
Each of the individuals pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Each faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering US sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.
The Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Labor and the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation, as well as national and local partners, including the Norton Police Department and the Russell County Sheriff’s Office, are investigating the case.
Assistant United States Attorney Daniel J. Murphy continued 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 responsible for 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 allegations of 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.