District Man Pleads Guilty to Multiple Identity Thefts in Years-long Scheme to Fraudulently Obtain Unemployment Benefits
WASHINGTON – Thelmiah Lee, 68, of Southeast Washington, D.C., pled guilty last week to charges stemming from his involvement in a scheme to fraudulently obtain thousands of dollars in unemployment benefits from the District of Columbia, announced U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu.
Lee pled guilty, mid-trial, on June 18, 2019, in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, to two felony counts of first degree identity theft, and admitted to his conduct in fraudulently obtaining unemployment benefits from the District of Columbia over a four-year period.
As part of his plea, Lee agreed to a term of incarceration between 42 and 96 months and agreed to return more than $16,000 in cash that law enforcement seized at the time of his arrest. The cash will be delivered to his victims as partial compensation for their losses.
According to the government’s evidence, beginning in 2012 and continuing until his arrest in July 2016, Lee stole the identities of two victims: his own brother, and another man. Lee used those identities and his victims’ personal identifying information to fraudulently submit and obtain nearly $25,000 in unemployment benefits from the District of Columbia. Lee took steps to mask his identity as the actual recipient of those funds, and he received the benefits on debit cards—which he used at various businesses. Over the course of a multi-year investigation, detectives of the Metropolitan Police Department, agents from the D.C. Office of Inspector General, and claims examiners from the D.C. Department of Employment Services worked together to interview victims, identify Lee, and gather evidence of his identity thefts—as well as his submission, receipt, and use of the unemployment benefits. On July 22, 2016, law enforcement executed a search warrant at Lee’s residence, which he had fraudulently rented using the name of his brother. During the search, law enforcement recovered more than $16,000 in cash, along with multiple licenses, tax documents, and other confidential materials belonging to Lee’s victims.
On June 17, 2019, the trial for this case began in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia. The following day, after opening statements and the testimony of multiple victims, Lee entered a negotiated guilty plea to two felony counts. The Court ordered that Lee be detained pending sentencing, scheduled for September 13, 2019.
In announcing the plea, U.S. Attorney Liu commended the work of the Metropolitan Police Department, Office of Inspector General, and D.C. Department of Employment Services detectives, agents, and claims examiners who investigated the case. U.S. Attorney Liu also acknowledged the efforts of those who worked on the case from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, including Assistant U.S. Attorney William Schurmann, who investigated and tried the case, as well as Paralegal Rommel Pachoca, Legal Assistant Emma Atlas, and Litigation Technology personnel Paul Howell and Leif Hickling.