Final Conspirator Pleads Guilty in Scheme to Fraudulently Obtain at Least $409,000 in Maryland Unemployment Benefits

Three Defendants Used Stolen Identifying Information to Fraudulently Claim Unemployment Insurance

October 16, 2012

Baltimore, Maryland - Shekia Denise Edwards, age 25, of Baltimore, Maryland pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to commit access device fraud related to a scheme to fraudulently obtain at least $409,000 in Maryland unemployment benefits.

The guilty plea was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein and Special Agent in Charge Michael S. Barcus, U.S. Department of Labor – Office of Inspector General, Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations.

According to the plea agreements of Edwards and co-defendants Sheila Willis and Kevin Smith, from January 2010, until May 2012, Smith, Willis and Edwards obtained identifying information of Maryland residents, which they used to fraudulently obtain Maryland unemployment benefits.

Specifically, Smith created fictitious Maryland companies, including the Maryland Institute of Charity, K & S Autos, Supreme Cleaning Services, Nathaniel Jefferson and Atlas Moving and Hauling Company. Smith then filed fraudulent quarterly reports with the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation (DLLR) under the names of fictitious Maryland companies, which falsely claimed that certain individuals had been employed and received wages at the companies during that quarter. The defendants usually used the personal identifiers of actual Maryland residents without their permission, including their names and dates of birth. However, the defendants also used the personal identifiers of Sheila Willis to falsely represent her employment status with one of the fictitious companies. Over the term of the scheme, the defendants used the quarterly contribution reports and false identities to create approximately $409,000 in available balances in the unemployment insurance tax accounts registered in the names of the fictitious companies.

The defendants would then file unemployment insurance claims with DLLR using the purported employees’ identities in order to fraudulently obtain unemployment benefits. In response to some of these claims, DLLR issued prepaid Visa debit cards which were mailed to residences associated with the defendants. The defendants used the debit cards to obtain approximately $88,500 in purchases and cash from ATMs in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

During much of the scheme to defraud, Smith was incarcerated at the Baltimore City Central Booking and Intake Facility. Despite his incarceration, his recorded conversation establishes that he continued to oversee and coordinate the use of the fraudulently obtained Visa debit cards by his co-defendants and others.

Edwards, Willis and Smith will be required to pay $88,500 in restitution.

Edwards faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison for the conspiracy. U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett scheduled sentencing for January 15, 2013 at 3:00 p.m.

Kevin Bernard Smith and Sheila Denis Willis, both age 48 and of Baltimore, pleaded guilty to their participation in the conspiracy and aggravated identity theft, and are scheduled to be sentenced on December 11, 2012 and January 9, 2013, respectively, both at 3:00 p.m.

This law enforcement action is part of President Barack Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. President Obama established the interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. The task force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general, and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources. The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes.

United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein thanked the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General for its work in the investigation and also thanked the Maryland DLLR for its assistance in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein praised Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin J. Clarke, who is prosecuting the case.

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