Inmate Pleads Guilty to COVID-19 Unemployment Benefits Fraud
FRESNO, Calif. — Sholanda Thomas, 38, an inmate at the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) in Chowchilla, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy and aggravated identity theft charges for submitting fraudulent unemployment insurance claims to the California Employment Development Department in her own name and the names of other inmates, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.
According to court documents, Thomas sent her own and other inmates’ personal identifying information to Christina Smith, who was on parole and had previously been an inmate at CCWF, to submit the fraudulent claims in their names. The underlying applications falsely represented that the inmates had been working as carpet cleaners, hair stylists, mechanics, and other jobs. This was impossible because they were incarcerated and ineligible for benefits. The loss to the EDD and the United States is over $250,000. Thomas split the proceeds with Smith and her other 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.
Thomas is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Dale A. Drozd on Sept. 12, 2022. For the conspiracy charge, she faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. For the aggravated identity theft charge, she faces a mandatory two-year sentence consecutive to any other sentence and a $250,000 fine. 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.
Smith pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years in federal prison in September 2021.