Former Washington State Job Security employee pleads guilty to stealing pandemic unemployment benefits for bribes | USAO-WDWA
Tacoma – A former employee of the Washington State Department of Employment Security pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to three federal felonies for his scheme to exploit his employment for commercial gain. enrichment and fraudulently distributing at least $360,000 in pandemic-related unemployment benefits, acting 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 through his scheme. De La Cruz was arrested on September 24, 2021 in Moses Lake and has been in federal custody since his arrest.
“We remain committed to working with our law enforcement partners to prosecute those who have used pandemic cover to enrich themselves unlawfully,” U.S. Attorney Brown said. “In this case, De La Cruz’s betrayal of the public trust during a time of national crisis is particularly egregious.”
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 not eligible 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.
Under the terms of the plea deal, prosecutors will seek no more than 75 months in prison when De La Cruz is sentenced on September 16, 2022.
“Reyes De La Cruz was hired by the Washington Department of Employment Security to help process an unprecedented surge in pandemic-related unemployment insurance claims. Instead, he got rich illegally by diverting vital taxpayer resources from those in need of unemployment benefits. Protecting the integrity of the Unemployment Insurance program remains one of our highest priorities, and we will continue to work with our partners law enforcement to protect unemployment benefits for those in need, especially during this critical time,” said Quentin Heiden, Special Agent-in-Charge, U.S. Department of Labor, Office of the Inspector General, Los Angeles Area.
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.
Wire fraud related to a major disaster or emergency declared by the President is punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Bribery of an official receiving federal funds is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Aggravated identity theft is punishable by a sentence of two years consecutive to any other sentence pronounced in the case.
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 via NCDF’s online complaint form at: https://www. .justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.