Inland Empire

3 Inland Empire Women Plead Guilty to Pandemic-Related Unemployment Benefits Fraud

All three women are believed to have used personal information from California prison inmates and others to apply and receive COVID-19 related unemployment benefits, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

Bloomberg via Getty Images, File

Three women from the Inland Empire have pleaded guilty to using information belonging to other people, including California state prison inmates, to file for COVID-19 related unemployment benefits costing the state approximately $1.2 million.

Paris Denise Thomas, 33, of San Bernardino, Sequoia Edwards, 35, of Moreno Valley, and Mireya Ramos, 42, of Colton, each pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and face a maximum of 30 years in federal prison, the U.S. Department of Justice said Wednesday.

Thomas submitted at least 47 fraudulent unemployment insurance claims to the California Employment Development Department (EDD) from June 2020 to December 2020 resulting in $477,000 to be disbursed to her, according to the Department of Justice.

Authorities say Thomas admitted to receiving the names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and other personal information of prison inmates and others, and used that information to apply for unemployment benefits.

"In exchange for cash payments, Thomas provided third parties with the electronic benefit payment debit cards which were loaded periodically with UI benefits and EDD website login credentials linked to the fraudulent UI claims," the Department of Justice said in a statement.

Edwards, for her part, admitted in her plea agreement that she submitted at least 27 fraudulent claims to the EDD from July 2020 to March 2021 using personal information from inmates and others resulting in her receiving approximately $456,218, the Department of Justice said.

From June 2020 to December 2020, Ramos submitted at least 37 claims to the EDD using information from inmates and others stating they had lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in her collecting $353,532 in unemployment benefits from June 2020 to January 2021, said the DOJ.

Ramos created various email addresses so she could monitor the status of each application, according to the DOJ.

All three women have sentencing hearings scheduled for later in the year.

Signed into law in March 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act provided supplemental unemployment benefits to qualified individuals and benefits to those who didn't otherwise qualify such as business owners, self-employed workers, and independent contractors, as well as those with limited work history.

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