Jerome M. Cruz Sentenced to Prison for Unemployment Fraud Charge Related to COVID-19 Pandemic
Hagatña, Guam – SHAWN N. ANDERSON, United States Attorney for the Districts of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, announced that defendant Jerome Michael Cruz, age 26, from Barrigada, Guam, was sentenced in the United States District Court of Guam to ten months imprisonment for Federal Program Theft in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 666(a)(1)(A) and (b) and Accessing Protected Computer in Furtherance of Fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1030(a)(4) and (c)(3)(A). The Court also ordered three years of supervised release following imprisonment, $14,210.00 in restitution, and a mandatory $200 special assessment fee.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) created a temporary federal unemployment insurance program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). PUA, administered by the Guam Department of Labor (GDOL), provides unemployment insurance benefits for individuals who are unemployed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and those who are not covered by typical unemployment programs (e.g., the self-employed, independent contractors, or gig economy workers).
Jerome Michael Cruz was employed by GDOL as a Customer Service Representative assisting the public with PUA and FPUC claims. While employed, Cruz filed a claim for PUA benefits on his own behalf, falsely certifying that he was unemployed and eligible for benefits. Cruz used his knowledge and privileged access to the GDOL computer system to modify existing PUA claims and to submit fraudulent PUA claims on behalf of other persons while directing the benefits from these fraudulent claims into a bank account he controlled. As part of the scheme, Cruz logged in to the GDOL system using other employee’s credentials to certify and approve these fraudulent claims. From September 2020 through November 2020, Cruz obtained and attempted to obtain a total of $93,000 in benefits.
United States Attorney Anderson stated, “Unemployment assistance has provided vital support to many people suffering from the economic effects of the pandemic. Nationwide, the scale of fraud related to the disbursement of CARES Act funds has been staggering. While Guam has not seen the same level of criminal activity, this case reveals that it is occurring. Any theft by a government employee in a position of trust should concern the public. I applaud GDOL for holding its employees accountable.”
FBI Honolulu Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Steven B. Merrill stated, “The money in the government's financial assistance funds—particularly during a crisis like a pandemic—are essential to people’s survival. This case is an example of an individual who chose to line his own pockets with money intended to help those who truly need it. Thanks to the partnership and hard work of the Guam Department of Labor and United States Attorney's Office, we were able to stop this. And to those criminal opportunists out there I say: the FBI is watching, we will catch you, and you will learn the price for defrauding your fellow citizens."
Guam Department of Labor Director David Dell'Isola stated, "I want to thank the FBI who worked so quickly to bring this case to conclusion. We hope this sets an example and discourages others from putting in fraudulent claims."
This case was a joint investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Guam Department of Labor. The case was prosecuted by Benjamin K. Petersburg, Assistant United States Attorney in the District of Guam.