FRESNO, Calif. — Cecilia Aquino, 34, of Fresno, pleaded guilty today to submitting fraudulent unemployment insurance claims in at least seven states and submitting fraudulent applications for Small Business Administration (SBA) Economic Injury Disaster Loans using stolen identities during the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.
According to court documents, between June 2020 and November 2020, Aquino submitted unemployment insurance claims and SBA loan applications that contained several misrepresentations, including that the named individuals last worked as self-employed dancers, owned interior design businesses, and that they lost their jobs and business revenues because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The state agencies that administer the unemployment insurance system, the SBA, and the United States suffered an actual loss of $220,000 and were subject to a potential loss of more than $300,000 because of Aquino’s fraud. Aquino used the money for gambling, rent, shopping, and other personal expenditures.
This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the SBA Office of Inspector General, and the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General. Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Barton is prosecuting the case.
Aquino is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Jennifer L. Thurston on Feb. 21, 2023. Aquino faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and fine of up to $250,000 for the unemployment insurance and SBA loan fraud, and a mandatory two-year consecutive sentence for the identity theft. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.
This effort is part of a California COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Strike Force operation, one of three interagency COVID-19 fraud strike force teams established by the U.S. Department of Justice. The California Strike Force combines law enforcement and prosecutorial resources in the Eastern and Central Districts of California and focuses on large-scale, multistate pandemic relief fraud perpetrated by criminal organizations and transnational actors. The strike forces use prosecutor-led and data analyst-driven teams to identify and bring to justice those who stole pandemic relief funds.