SANTA ANA, California – A Riverside County woman who participated in a scheme that used stolen identities to fraudulently apply for just over $2.8 million in unemployment insurance (UI) benefits from the California Employment Development Department (EDD) has been sentenced to 41 months in federal prison, the Justice Department announced today.
Sasha Lizette Jimenez, 26, formerly of Placentia and now residing in Riverside County, was sentenced Monday afternoon by United States District Judge Cormac J. Carney. In addition to the prison term, Judge Carney ordered Jimenez to pay $2,304,203 in restitution to the EDD.
Jimenez pleaded guilty on May 22 to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and admitted that she fraudulently obtained UI benefits from the EDD, including Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits intended for individuals who were unemployed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As part of the scheme that started at the beginning of the pandemic and ran for about two years, Jimenez and her co-conspirators obtained stolen personal identifying information (PII) – sometimes from the darkweb – and used those stolen identities to apply for UI benefits. The PII was stolen from victims who did not live in California, were deceased or were otherwise not eligible for UI benefits, including pandemic benefits. In total, the fraud scheme caused the issuance of at least $2,804,508 in fraudulent unemployment benefits – which were disbursed via EDD debit accounts – and at least $2,304,203 was withdrawn from those accounts.
“[B]ank records show that in 2020, an EDD card in the name of victim S.S. was used to purchase luxury jewelry from Peter Marco, a Beverly Hills jewelry business frequented by [Jimenez],” prosecutors noted in a sentencing memorandum.
In her plea agreement, Jimenez also admitted participating in a separate check fraud scheme orchestrated by her boyfriend, Meshach Samuels, 26, of Placentia. Samuels, who also participated in the EDD fraud scheme, was sentenced in October to 90 months in federal prison.
The investigation in this matter was conducted by the Los Angeles El Camino Real Financial Crimes Task Force, a multi-agency task force led by Homeland Security Investigations that includes federal and state investigators who are focused on financial crimes in Southern California. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration also participated in this investigation. The Costa Mesa Police Department, the Inglewood Police Department, the Placentia Police Department, the New York City Police Department, and the Miami Beach Police Department provided assistance.
Assistant United States Attorney Rachel N. Agress of the International Narcotics, Money Laundering, and Racketeering Section prosecuted this case.
Anyone with information about allegations of fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at (866) 720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.