Former Washington State Department of Employment Security employee sentenced to five years in prison for wire fraud, bribery and aggravated identity theft | USAO-WDWA
Tacoma – A former employee of the Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD) was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to five years in prison for three federal felonies for his scheme to exploiting his employment for personal enrichment and fraudulently distributing at least $360,000 in pandemic-related unemployment benefits, U.S. Attorney Nick Brown has announced. Reyes De La Cruz, III, 48, of Moses Lake, Washington, has personally enriched himself by at least $130,000 with his scheme. During the sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Bryan said, “This was a serious offense … detrimental to our system of government and to individuals.
“Mr. De La Cruz’s betrayal of the public trust is particularly egregious, since he was hired to help people survive during a time of national crisis,” U.S. Attorney Nick Brown said. this, through multiple acts of demanding bribes, falsifying records, stealing identities – he robbed the public to line his pockets. The Department of Justice is working tirelessly to combat pandemic fraud and to hold those who have defrauded the government accountable. »
“Public servants must be held to higher standards.” said Richard A. Collodi, special agent in charge of the FBI’s field office in Seattle. “Mr. De La Cruz took advantage of a program designed to help struggling families during the pandemic. He leveraged his position for his own benefit, making his actions that This case demonstrates the commitment of the FBI and the Office of the US Attorney to build trust and hold accountable those who manipulate for personal gain.
According to records filed in the case, De La Cruz was hired as an intake worker in April 2020 to help the Employment Security Department (ESD) deal with the crush of workers’ compensation claims. unemployment in the event of a pandemic. De La Cruz previously worked for ESD, from 1996 to 2003.
Between July 3, 2020 and March 15, 2021, De La Cruz used his access to the ESD claims database to defraud the benefits system in several ways. In at least ten cases, De La Cruz accepted bribes in exchange for engineering benefit payments for friends, family, or acquaintances by making false entries in the claims database. In many cases, the person was ineligible for benefits, but De La Cruz manipulated the claims database so that claimants received lump sum retroactive payments that sometimes amounted to tens of thousands of dollars. The plaintiffs would then pay De La Cruz part of the lump sum. The bribes ranged from $500 to $6,500. In total, De La Cruz enriched himself by nearly $21,000 through bribes.
In some cases, when claimants refused or resisted payment from De La Cruz, he threatened to terminate the claim if they did not pay him.
De La Cruz filed at least four claims using other people’s personal information without authorization, then charged the benefits to debit cards that were mailed to Moses Lake, Washington, addresses where De La Cruz could to get them back. Even after his employment with ESD ended on Oct. 1, 2020, De La Cruz attempted to restart paying claims on those debit cards to take advantage of additional federal pandemic benefits. De La Cruz went so far as to impersonate a claimant in recorded phone calls with ESD and a bank. He impersonated another plaintiff in handwritten correspondence which he then faxed to ESD. In this way, he defrauded ESD of over $113,000.
The Department of Employment Security uncovered evidence of fraud, fired De La Cruz, and referred the matter to the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Labor. The FBI has joined the investigation.
“Reyes De La Cruz was a state employee who was trusted to handle sensitive employment information. He abused that trust for his personal gain. This conviction sends a strong message to those who defrauded the our country’s unemployment system at a time when unemployment benefits were needed most. Protecting the integrity of the unemployment insurance program remains one of our top priorities. We will continue to work with our partners in enforcement to protect unemployment benefits for those in need and to bring to justice those who commit unemployment insurance fraud,” said Quentin Heiden, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Labor , Office of the Inspector General, Los Angeles Area.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Cindy Chang and Seth Wilkinson.
On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to mobilize Department of Justice resources in partnership with government agencies to scale up enforcement and prevention efforts. pandemic-related fraud. The task force strengthens efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies administering relief programs to prevent fraud, among other methods, by increasing and integrating coordination mechanisms existing ones, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their agendas, and sharing and leveraging information and knowledge gained from previous enforcement efforts. For more information about 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 (NCDF) hotline at 866-720-5721 or through the complaint form NCDF online at: https://www. .justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.