Attorney General Merrick Garland Honors Three Spokane Federal Prosecutors for their Outstanding Government Service
Spokane – Michael C. Ormsby, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, announced that five individuals from across Eastern Washington, who fraudulently collected unemployment benefits from the Washington State Employment Security Division, have pleaded guilty to Federal charges of Theft of Government Funds, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 641. Each of the fraudsters unlawfully collected thousands of dollars in unemployment benefits, ranging from $5,500.00 to $36,000.00.
The Washington State Employment Security Division implements the unemployment benefits program in the state of Washington. For an individual to receive unemployment benefits, he or she must submit a weekly claim to the Washington State Employment Security Division, certifying that he or she is unemployed and entitled to benefits under the program. The state program is overseen by the United States Department of Labor and any fraud committed against the program is a Federal crime.
On February 20, 2014, Elke Anna Marie Covey, age 56, of Spokane Valley, Washington, pleaded guilty to Theft of Government Funds. According to information disclosed during the court proceedings, which were presided over by Chief United States District Court Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson, Covey claimed unemployment benefits from August, 2010 through October, 2011. Each week during this period of time Covey claimed she was not working and had no reportable earnings, when in truth she was collecting monies from the Washington Department of Social and Health Services for providing child care. Covey unlawfully collected approximately $23,022.00 in benefits. CR-13-130-RMP.
On February 20, 2014, Sherrie Lynn Clark, age 49, of Spokane, Washington, also pleaded guilty to Theft of Government Funds. According to information disclosed during the court proceedings, which were presided over by United States District Court Judge Thomas O. Rice, Clark claimed unemployment benefits from August, 2009 through October, 2010. Each week during this period of time Clark certified that she was neither working nor receiving income. In fact, Clark was employed by a company located in Idaho. Clark admitted to investigators that she falsely claimed she was unemployed when she submitted her weekly claim for benefits to the Washington Employment Securities Division. Clark also admitted that she unlawfully collected approximately $36,332.00 in unemployment benefits. CR-13-129-TOR.
Similarly, on December 16, 2013, Albert Junior Riojas, age 31, of Yakima, Washington, pleaded guilty to Theft of Government Funds. According to information disclosed during the court proceedings, which were presided over by Senior United States District Court Judge Wm. Fremming Nielsen, Riojas began submitting claims for benefits in December, 2009, after losing his employment with the City of Toppenish. However, from December, 2010 through October, 2011, Riojas continued to collect unemployment benefits after he secured employment. Riojas submitted weekly claims for benefits, unlawfully certifying that he was not employed. Riojas admitted his fraudulent conduct to investigators and that he unlawfully collected over $18,500.00 in unemployment benefit payments. CR-13-2106-WFN.
On October 24, 2013, Matthew Allegal Loges, age 33, of Prosser, Washington, also pleaded guilty to Theft of Government Funds. In this case, which was presided over by Senior United States District Court Judge Lonny R. Suko, it was disclosed that Loges began to submit claims for unemployment benefits in May, 2011. He was subsequently incarcerated in a state correctional facility on unrelated state charges in September, 2011, yet continued to submit claims for unemployment benefits until November 2011. Each week Loges certified he was available from, able to, and actively seeking employment. Loges admitted to investigators that he falsely submitted the claims, and stated he considered the payments a "low-interest loan from the state" which he could use to make the payments on a new boat and a new car while incarcerated. Loges fraudulently collected approximately $5,755.00 in benefits. CR-13-6059-LRS.
On October 22, 2013, Bobby Joe Perez, age 33, of Kennewick, Washington, also pleaded guilty to Theft of Government Funds. Senior United States District Court Judge Wm. Fremming Nielsen presided over the case, during which it was disclosed that Perez began to file for unemployment benefits beginning in 2003, and thereafter, sporadically filed for benefits in subsequent years. The investigation revealed that, from April, 2011 through January, 2012, Perez was actually employed, but each week during this time period he falsely reported he was unemployed. Perez unlawfully collected approximately $16,980.00 in benefits. Of note, based on a Washington State Employment Security Division investigation in 2009, Perez was found to have fraudulently submitted and collected unemployment benefits from the program – at that time he was barred from collecting benefits for six months and required to repay the monies he had received. CR-13-6060-WFN.
Michael C. Ormsby stated, "The United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Washington is committed to ferreting out and prosecute aggressively fraud-induced "white collar" crimes. The investigation and prosecution of these cases is just one example of this commitment. I commend the superb work of this Office's state and Federal investigative partners."
These cases were investigated by the U.S. Department of Labor (Office of Inspector General), the Washington Employment Security Department, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. These cases are being prosecuted by Caitlin A. Baunsgard, an Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington.