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    Feds charge three more in massive California unemployment fraud

    SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA (AP) — Federal prosecutors said on Friday that they have charged three Southern California women with using prison inmates’ names to bilk a state agency out of a combined nearly USD1.25 million in coronavirus-related unemployment benefits, the latest allegations in an ongoing scandal that has cost hundreds of millions
    of dollars.

    The three are among a dozen charged just in the greater Los Angeles area and among 150 charged federally nationwide with exploiting federal benefits that were supposed to aid those who lost their jobs during the pandemic.

    Much of that fraud has been in California, where state auditors in January said the troubled Employment Development Department approved at least USD810 million in the names of roughly 45,000 inmates, some of them on death row. Inmates are not eligible for the benefits.

    Each of the Southern California women separately faces charges of fraud in connection with emergency benefits and wire fraud. The first carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in federal prison, the second up to 20 years.

    Sequoia Edwards, 35, of Moreno Valley, was arrested on Friday on allegations that she filed at least 27 bogus unemployment claims last summer, at least six including information on prison inmates that she received from an incarcerated cousin. An FBI raid in February recovered debit cards and USD45,000 in cash from her home, part of at least USD455,000 she received in benefits, prosecutors said.

    File photo shows a runner passing the office of the California Employment Development Department in Sacramento, California. PHOTO: AP

    Her attorney, Mark Daniel Melnick, did not respond to telephone and email requests for comment.

    Mireya Ramos, 42, of Colton, was arrested on Thursday on charges that she was issued at least USD353,532 in unemployment benefits on at least 37 fraudulent claims. Most were in the name of inmates and most said they were barbers who were out of work because of the pandemic, prosecutors said. They said she obtained the inmates’ identifying information from her boyfriend, who is serving a life sentence in Calipatria State Prison.

    On Wednesday, authorities arrested Paris Thomas, 33, of San Bernardino, on allegations she obtained more than USD440,000 by filing about 49 bogus claims, at least 15 in the names of state and federal prisons and county jails.

    An FBI search of her house in February found debit cards and a notebook with application information for more than 40 people, prosecutors said.

    Deputy Federal Public Defender Young Kim, who is representing both women, declined comment.

    Separately, Sacramento County authorities on Friday arrested 35-year-old Jamie Williams-Major, alleging that she and six inmates fraudulently obtained more than USD250,000 in benefits.

    Two are in state prison and four in county jail; two of the jail inmates are facing murder charges, county prosecutors said. They said the six will also face charges.

    Officials could not immediately say if Williams-Major had a lawyer.

    District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert called the case “another example of what has become one of the most lucrative criminal enterprises in California’s history”.

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