BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry says the state has arrested five people for allegedly stealing unemployment benefits.
Three of the five are accused of using someone else’s name and personal information to file on their behalf. Landry says fraudsters have stolen more than $300,000 since the pandemic began in March.
It’s not yet clear if the accused will have to pay that money back if convicted.
“Since the public health emergency was declared, many of our neighbors fell ill and unfortunately, thousands lost their lives. Others, who never contracted the disease, have also been impacted in numerous negative ways,” said Landry. “Hundreds of businesses were forced to shut down and their employees lost their jobs, leading to thousands of Louisianians filing for unemployment. With record unemployment and record amounts of government benefits being paid out, the fraudsters came crawling.”
Landry cited several reasons as catalysts for the fraud, including multiple checks being sent to the same address or bank account, employers getting employment confirmation requests for people who never worked with them, and people filing in multiple states.
“While others may have been asleep at the wheel, we are not. We are here, we will find you, and we will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law possible," said Landry.
The state’s labor department says people have tried to gain as much as $300 million out of the system since the pandemic began. Landry says fraudsters have stolen about $300,000, meaning criminals are getting away with .1% of the money they’ve attempted to steal.
The arrests come as lawmakers search high and low for money to refill the state’s unemployment savings account. Louisiana has already gone into debt to keep making payments.
There is no long-term plan to pay all of the loans back, though a bill that would spend $85 million in savings on the fund is sitting on Gov. John Bel Edwards desk. The legislature halted an automatic tax increase on businesses that would’ve helped replenish the pot.
Kayla Giles, 33, of Alexandria, and Teri Thibodeaux, 33, of Forest Hill, were arrested and charged with felony identity theft, felony money laundering, government benefits fraud, and criminal conspiracy. The pair is accused of using approximately 25 stolen identities to file fraudulent COVID-19 related unemployment claims (valued at approximately $300,000) in multiple states. In addition to the identity theft scheme, the two allegedly made fraudulent claims in their own names in multiple states, with Giles receiving approximately $13,000 and Thibodaux receiving $37,000.
Demarcus Evans, 30, of Bossier City, was arrested Monday, Oct. 19 and charged with felony identity theft and government benefits fraud. He’s accused of using a female acquaintance’s personal information to file fraudulent COVID-19 related unemployment claims. Evans allegedly defrauded the State of Louisiana of approximately $8,600.
Christina French, 41, of Florida, is a fugitive of Louisiana for an arrest warranted issued Thursday, Oct. 15 pertaining to felony money laundering, government benefits fraud, and computer fraud. She’s accused of hacking the Louisiana Workforce Commission’s (LWC) online account of a Shreveport resident. French allegedly redirected the victim’s benefits to an out-of-state bank account that she controlled and that French transferred approximately $6,000 into that fraudulent account.
Amanda Garner, 33, of Covington, was arrested and charged with government benefits fraud. She’s accused of filing fraudulent COVID-19 related unemployment claim and weekly certifications. Garner allegedly obtained approximately $5,200 in unemployment benefits fraudulently as she did not qualify for unemployment because she remained employed during the COVID-19 shutdown and was not financially impacted.
Landry encourages anyone who knows of someone fraudulently receiving funds from the Unemployment Trust Fund or who believes he or she has been victimized to report it to the National Center for Disaster Fraud’s hotline at 866-720-5721 or online here.
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