Lawrence’s Raquel Pena Pleads Guilty to Identity Theft and Unemployment Fraud Linked to COVID-19 Pandemic
Raquel Pena, 40, pleaded guilty to wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. US District Court Judge William G. Young set the sentence for November 4, 2021. Pena was indicted by criminal complaint on April 1, 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). Pena and others conspired to file fraudulent claims for PUA using the personally identifiable information of other people.
Pena recruited acquaintances to receive the proceeds from the fraudulent claims on their bank accounts, withdraw some or all of those funds and give the money to Pena. The investigation linked Pena and her co-conspirators to more than $ 360,000 in jobless claims between May 2020 and March 2021.
The conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud charges each carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, up to three years of supervised release and a fine of $ 250,000. The aggravated identity theft charge provides for a mandatory sentence of two years in prison to be served consecutively with any other convicted person, one year of supervised release and a fine of $ 250,000.
Sentences are imposed by a judge in a federal district court based on US sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.
Acting US Attorney Nathaniel R. Mendell; Joseph R. Bonavolanta, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Division; and Michael Mikulka, Special Agent in charge of the Ministry of Labor, Office of the Inspector General, Bureau of Investigations, made the announcement today. 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 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.