Former USC linebacker Abdul-Malik McClain was arrested Monday on federal charges alleging he orchestrated a scheme that fraudulently sought hundreds of thousands of dollars in COVID-related unemployment benefits.
McClain, 22, who transferred to Jackson State, pleaded not guilty in Los Angeles federal court to multiple counts of mail fraud and aggravated identity theft, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
McClain, who was playing for USC during the alleged scheme last year, was ordered released on a $20,000 bond. Trial was set for Feb. 15.
Prosecutors allege that, while a member of the team, McClain organized and assisted a group of other players in filing fraudulent claims for unemployment benefits, including under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program established by Congress in response to the pandemic's economic fallout.
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The indictment alleges that the claims contained bogus information about the football players' supposed prior employment, pandemic-related job loss, and job-seeking efforts in California, according to federal prosecutors.
Prosecutors contend that false statements in applications filed with the state's unemployment insurance benefits program led the California Employment Development Department to authorize Bank of America to mail debit cards to the football players.
Those debit cards were loaded with at least hundreds of dollars, and sometimes thousands of dollars, in unemployment benefits, which the recipients used to make cash withdrawals at automated teller machines and to fund personal expenses.
In some cases, McClain sought and obtained a cut for helping others file fraudulent the applications, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
McClain and his co-schemers also allegedly filed applications in their own names, in the names of other friends and associates, and in the names of identity theft victims.
McClain allegedly caused at least three dozen fraudulent applications to be filed with EDD during the summer of 2020. According to the indictment, those fraudulent applications sought at least $903,688 in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits and led the EDD to pay out at least $227,736, prosecutors said.
“When the university learned of this matter in September 2020, we notified law enforcement and have been fully cooperating with authorities,” according to a university statement.
“We are unable to provide additional information because this is a pending criminal matter.”