Springfield Woman Pleads Guilty to Unemployment Fraud Related to COVID-19 Pandemic
BOSTON – A Springfield woman pleaded guilty yesterday in connection with her involvement in a scheme to fraudulently obtain COVID-19-related unemployment assistance.
Audri Ford-Victory, 61, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud conspiracy. U.S. District Court Judge Mark G. Mastroianni scheduled sentencing for June 1, 2022. Ford-Victory was charged on Dec. 15, 2021.
In March 2020, in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). The CARES Act created a temporary federal unemployment insurance program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which in Massachusetts is administered by the Department of Unemployment Assistance. This program provides unemployment insurance benefits for individuals who are not eligible for other types of unemployment benefits.
Ford-Victory and her co-conspirator submitted more than 100 fraudulent PUA claims resulting in more than $1.2 million in payments. Approximately half of the PUA claims were made on behalf of individuals residing outside of Massachusetts. In some instances, Ford-Victory and her co-conspirator received kickback payments for doing so.
The charge of wire fraud conspiracy provides for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, up to three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
United States Attorney Rachael S. Rollins; Frederick J. Regan, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Secret Service, Boston Field Office; and Jonathan Mellone, Special Agent in Charge of the Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, Office of Investigations – Labor Racketeering and Fraud, New York Regional Office, made the announcement. The Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance provided assistance in the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Markham of Rollins’ Securities, Financial & Cyber Fraud Unit is 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.