South Carolina Man and Florida Woman Sentenced in COVID-19 Unemployment Insurance Fraud Scheme
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of South Carolina
FLORENCE, SOUTH CAROLINA — Mohammad Ribhi Farraj, 43, of Florence, South Carolina, and Marvet Masoud, 34, of Homestead, Florida, were sentenced to federal prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud related to unemployment insurance benefits.
Evidence presented to the court showed that Farraj and Masoud engaged in a scheme with others to fraudulently obtain unemployment insurance benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the scheme, members of the conspiracy submitted applications in four states – Arizona, New York, Florida, and South Carolina – using the personal identifying information of other individuals, sometimes without the person’s permission. In some instances, members of the conspiracy would apply for benefits in multiple states using the same individual’s information. Members of the conspiracy then received the funds associated with the fraudulent claims, primarily through either direct deposit or debit cards. The investigation revealed a total of 69 fraudulent claims associated with the scheme, resulting in a total loss of $454,074.00 in unemployment insurance funds. Through this scheme, defendants exploited the flexibility afforded to those unemployed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As to Farraj, evidence presented to the court showed that Farraj obtained debit cards with unemployment insurance funds which were associated with the fraudulent claims and then withdrew the funds at ATMs. In addition, Farraj fraudulently obtained an Economic Injury Disaster Loan under the name of a fictitious business. After receiving a deposit of $149,900.00, Farraj transferred the funds to cryptocurrency accounts or used the funds to pay credit card bills.
As to Masoud, evidence presented to the court showed that Masoud completed withdrawals of funds associated with fraudulent unemployment insurance benefits claims and also received a deposit of $9,321.00 into an account in her name. The deposit was also associated with a fraudulent claim.
Farraj was sentenced to ten months, with five months to be served in the Bureau of Prisons and five months to be served on home detention with location monitoring, followed by a three-year term of court-ordered supervision. There is no parole in the federal system. Farraj was ordered to pay $604,074.00 in restitution.
Masoud was sentenced to 24 months of probation and ordered to pay $454,074.00 in restitution. United States District Judge Joseph Dawson, III imposed the sentences.
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 Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Labor, the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, the New York State Department of Labor, the Arizona Department of Economic Security, and the Small Business Administration. Assistant U.S. Attorney Lauren Hummel is prosecuting the case.
Brook Andrews, First Assistant United States Attorney, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Brook.Andrews@usdoj.gov, 803-929-3000
Updated May 1, 2023