Pee Dee Husband and Wife, along with other Family Members, Plead Guilty to National Pandemic Unemployment Fraud Scheme
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of South Carolina
FLORENCE, SOUTH CAROLINA — A Florence couple, along with family members from Florida and New York, have all pleaded guilty for their role in a nationwide unemployment fraud conspiracy. Those Defendants pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud are
- Mohammad Ribhi Farraj, 43, of Florence;
- Nariman Mahmoud Masoud, 35, of Florence;
- Marvet Masoud, 34, of Homestead, Florida; and
- Susan Masoud, 31, of Brooklyn, New York.
According to information presented to the Court, fraud schemes against unemployment benefits programs had become more prevalent after the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act provided federally-funded expanded Unemployment Insurance (UI).
The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI’s) lengthy investigation included witness interviews, confidential informants, search warrants, and subpoenas. The investigation revealed that from January 2020 to February 2022, the Defendants engaged in a wire fraud conspiracy to file and receive fraudulent claims for regular UI and expanded pandemic UI benefits from New York, Florida, and South Carolina.
Specifically, the Defendants would electronically submit false UI claims to various state agencies, using the personal identifying information of others they had procured. The Defendants had the funds loaded onto prepaid debit cards issued in the names of the third parties, had the cards mailed to addresses under their control, and used the cards to withdraw cash from ATMs.
Mohammad Farraj’s and Nariman Masoud’s role in the scheme was to procure personal identifying information, create fraudulent UI applications, recruit others into the scheme, withdraw money from accounts containing UI benefits, and place that money into their bank accounts and cryptocurrency accounts. Marvet Masoud and Susan Masoud helped create fraudulent UI applications and withdrew money from accounts containing UI bene its.
The total amount of the UI fraud alone was at least $444,753.
“These Defendants callously took advantage of an unprecedented and nationwide pandemic-borne employment crisis,” said U.S. Attorney Adair F. Boroughs. “They stole money specifically intended for out-of-work Americans trying to make ends meet, and they used that money to enrich themselves. This Office will not tolerate those who seek to get rich off the backs of hardworking taxpayers, and I commend the excellent work of the FBI in bringing this fraud ring to justice.”
“In a time where so many Americans are out of work and struggling financially, these individuals decided to fraudulently and selfishly take advantage of much needed unemployment benefits to line their pockets,” said FBI Columbia Special Agent in Charge, Susan Ferensic. “No matter how advanced the scheme, the FBI and its law enforcement partners will work to dismantle these crimes and make sure the responsible parties are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Each Defendant faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison. They also face a fine of up to $250,000, restitution, and three years of supervision to follow any term of imprisonment. United States District Judge Joseph Dawson, III accepted the guilty pleas and will sentence the Defendants after receiving and reviewing sentencing reports prepared by the U.S. Probation Office. A fifth Defendant, Wafah Masoud, 33, of Wylie, Texas, had her case continued in order to complete a pretrial diversion program given her limited role in the scheme.
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.
This case was investigated by the FBI. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Derek A. Shoemake, who served as the Office’s Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator, and Lauren Hummel are prosecuting the case.
Katie Stoughton, U.S. Attorney’s Office, email@example.com, (803) 929-3114
Updated December 8, 2022