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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of California

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Former Inmate Sentenced to Five Years in Prison for Jailhouse COVID-19 Unemployment Benefits Fraud

FRESNO, Calif. — Christina Smith, 38, who was formerly incarcerated at the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) in Chowchilla, was sentenced today to five years in prison for conspiracy and aggravated identity theft charges for the submission of fraudulent unemployment insurance claims to the California Employment Development Department (EDD) in the names of current CCWF inmates, Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.

According to court documents, another CCWF inmate sent Smith her own and several other inmates’ personal identifying information to submit the unemployment insurance claims in their names. The underlying applications represented that the inmates had been working various jobs, which was untrue because they were incarcerated and therefore ineligible for benefits. The intended loss to the EDD and the United States was over $250,000. Smith split the proceeds with her co-conspirators.

This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Investigative Services Unit, and the EDD. Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Barton is prosecuting the case.

The CARES Act is a federal law enacted March 29 that is designed to provide emergency financial assistance to millions of Americans who are suffering the economic effects resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. One source of relief provided by the CARES Act is the authorization that expands states’ ability to provide unemployment insurance for many workers impacted by COVID-19, including for workers who are not ordinarily eligible for unemployment insurance benefits.

Updated September 7, 2021