A Victorville woman pleaded guilty to fraudulently obtaining more than $500,000 in unemployment benefits related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Justice Department reported Monday.
Cynthia Ann Hernandez, 33, aka “Cynthia Roberts,” obtained the funds using the names of inmates in California’s state prison system.
She pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud and one count of access device fraud in excess of $1,000, the Justice Department said.
According to his plea deal, from June 2020 to August 2020, Hernandez made fraudulent applications to the California Department of Employment Development for UI benefits on behalf of the inmates.
The state EDD operates California’s Unemployment Insurance Program.
Hernandez falsely claimed in UI benefit applications that the named applicants were individuals whose employment had been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and who were eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Congress passed the CARES Act in March 2020 to help people whose jobs and finances have been negatively impacted by the pandemic.
The applications also falsely alleged that the named applicants were eligible for UI benefits and that they resided and worked in Los Angeles and Orange counties.
EDD then authorized Bank of America to issue debit cards in the applicants name which were mailed to Hernandez’s mailing address. Once Hernandez received the debit cards, he used them to withdraw cash from ATMs.
Hernandez admitted causing at least 29 fraudulent applications to be filed with the EDD, resulting in losses for the agency and the U.S. Treasury of about $515,138.
US District Judge Mark C. Scarsi has scheduled a sentencing hearing for April 17. At that point, Hernandez faces a maximum statutory sentence of 20 years in federal prison for counting mail fraud and up to 15 years in federal prison for counting access device fraud.
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The matter was investigated by the US Department of Labor – Office of the Inspector General; the California Department of Employment Development – Investigations Division; Internal security investigations; the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; the United States Department of Homeland Security – Office of the Inspector General; the United States Postal Inspection Service; and United States Customs and Border Protection – Special Response Team.
US Assistant Attorney Haoxiaohan Cai of the General Crimes Section is prosecuting this case.
This article originally appeared in the Victorville Daily Press: Victorville woman pleads guilty to pandemic benefit scheme fraud