Two Sentenced to over 5 Years in Prison for COVID-19 Unemployment Benefit Fraud Scheme
FRESNO, Calif. — Jason Vertz, 51, of Fresno, and Alana Powers, 45, an inmate at the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) in Chowchilla, were each sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Dale A. Drozd to five years and one month in prison for conspiracy to commit mail fraud and aggravated identity theft, Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.
According to court documents, Vertz and Powers submitted several fraudulent unemployment insurance claims in Powers’ and other CCWF inmates’ names to the California Employment Development Department (EDD). Recorded jail calls and emails show that Powers and other inmates provided names, dates of birth, and social security numbers for inmates at CCWF to Vertz to submit the fraudulent claims. Shortly thereafter, the benefits were loaded onto debit cards that were mailed to the addresses the defendants provided.
The underlying applications for the claims stated that the inmates had worked within the prescribed period as maids, cleaners, fabrication welders, and other occupations, and that they were available to work, which was not true because they were incarcerated. The claims would have been denied if accurate answers had been given. EDD and the United States have suffered an actual loss of over $74,000 as a result of the fraud.
This case was the product of an investigation by the FBI, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Investigative Services Unit, and the California EDD. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alexandre Dempsey and Joseph Barton are prosecuting the case.
On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to marshal the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with agencies across government to enhance efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud. The Task Force bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud by, among other methods, augmenting and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their schemes, and sharing and harnessing information and insights gained from prior enforcement efforts. For more information on the Department’s response to the pandemic, please visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus.
Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.