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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of Pennsylvania

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, August 25, 2020

33 Inmates and Accomplices Charged with Illegally Obtaining Coronavirus Unemployment Benefits

PITTSBURGH – United States Attorney Scott W. Brady and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro today announced that 33 individuals, including inmates at eight state and county jails and prisons in western Pennsylvania and their accomplices, have been charged in federal and state criminal complaints for illegally obtaining Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act unemployment benefits that contained false or fraudulent statements, and to which they were not entitled.

U.S. Attorney Brady stated, "The unprecedented scope and audacity of this inmate unemployment compensation fraud is appalling. These benefits were intended to help Pennsylvania workers make it through a difficult time. These inmates and their accomplices took advantage of this national emergency to line their pockets through fraud. Their conduct is despicable at any time, but particularly in a time of a national emergency. As these charges make clear, this conduct will not go unpunished, and my office will continue to work with our federal, state and local law enforcement partners to bring these criminals and their co-conspirators to justice. The message to those who engaged in this fraud is clear: if you submitted a fraudulent application for unemployment benefits, withdraw it. If you got a check or debit card through fraud, return it. If you don’t, expect to hear a knock on your door very soon."

"These defendants took advantage of a public health emergency to cash in on the backs of working people across our Commonwealth. They rip-offed off a program meant for everyday people whose lives were uprooted by COVID-19, some doing so from jail cells in local Pennsylvania prisons," said PA Attorney General Shapiro. "Our work here is not done. We will continue to root out scammers taking advantage of a system put in place to help during a trying time."

"An important mission of the Office of Inspector General is to investigate allegations of fraud that threaten the integrity of the Unemployment Insurance program. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to investigate this alleged criminal activity," said Derek Pickle, Acting Special Agent-in-Charge, Philadelphia Region, U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General.

"Defrauding U.S. government programs intended to provide economic relief to disaster victims is not simply a matter of theft of U.S. tax dollars. It is far more: it undermines the security and wellbeing of our most vulnerable communities at a time when they are in the greatest in need of assistance," said Timothy Burke, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Secret Service’s Pittsburgh Field Office. "The U.S. Secret Service is committed to working with all of our partners, both in government and in the financial sector, to detect and arrest all those that engage in such crimes."

"The people accused today cooked up this scheme from behind bars to steal unemployment benefits that should’ve gone to families in our area who are out of work and trying to feed their families," said FBI Pittsburgh Special Agent in Charge Michael Christman. "At a time when people across the country are already struggling, this group capitalized on the hardships created by the pandemic. We know there are more out there and we will not stop our investigation until those who thought they could get some free money are brought to justice."

The following individuals were named in 16 separate criminal complaints filed this week in the U.S. Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania:

Levi Stroud, 24, incarcerated at Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution (SCI) -Greene since approximately January 22, 2018, and Christina Marie Weigner, of 389 Steubenville Pike, Burgettstown, PA 15021, are charged with knowingly filing, or aiding and abetting the filing, of a claim for PUA benefits that contained materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements and conspiracy to commit fraud in connection with a major disaster or emergency benefit.

Anthony Lee, 40, incarcerated at Allegheny County Jail since September 29, 2019, and Amara Ramsey (Lee’s girlfriend and claim filer), 38, of 2418 Aliquippa Street, Apt. 404, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, are charged with knowingly filing, or aiding and abetting the filing, of a claim for PUA benefits that contained materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements.

Lamont Wilford, 49, incarcerated at Allegheny County Jail since November 28, 2019; Casey Norrick (Wilford’s girlfriend), 44, of 9 Spruce Street, Natrona Heights, PA; and Amara Ramsey (claim filer) 38, of 2418 Aliquippa Street, Apt. 404, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, are charged with knowingly filing, or aiding and abetting the filing, of a claim for PUA benefits that contained materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements.

Orlando Grandison, 30, incarcerated at Allegheny County Jail since August 7, 2019; Nathaniel Weatherspoon, 28, currently incarcerated at Allegheny County Jail and has been since approximately October 5, 2017; and Andrea Zenmon (claim filer), 24, of 217 Rolling Woods Drive, North Versailles, PA 15137, are charged with knowingly filing, or aiding and abetting the filing, of a claim for PUA benefits that contained materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements.

Marcenia Massey, 38, of 221 Ormsby Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15210, is charged with knowingly filing, or aiding and abetting the filing, of a claim for PUA benefits that contained materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements. The claim was filed in the name of her incarcerated son, Isaiah Sterdivant, who is currently incarcerated at ACJ and has been since approximately March 20, 2019.

Shicon Jordan, 46, an SCI-Greene inmate incarcerated since March 12, 2015; Dennis Hill (aka Dennis Jordan - brother and currently on parole until November 20, 2020) 33, of Philadelphia, PA; and Niya Hill (claim filer), 35, of 511 Lloyd Court, Johnstown, PA 15906, are charged with conspiracy to commit fraud in connection with a major disaster or emergency benefit, and knowingly filing, or aiding and abetting the filing, claims for PUA benefits that contained materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements.

Jerome Dockblandi Poole, 33, an inmate at SCI-Greene and Tracy Ann Stankiewicz (ex-girlfriend and claim filer), of 1927 Woodmont Avenue, New Kensington, PA, are charged with knowingly filing, or aiding and abetting the filing, of a claim for PUA benefits that contained materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements.

Joseph Thomas Gainer, 28, an SCI-Greene inmate; Jonetta Meneffe Davis (friend) of 1410 Franklin Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA; and Joshua Calibe Lowry (aka El Rocco, claim filer), are charged with knowingly filing, or aiding and abetting the filing, of a claim for PUA benefits that contained materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statements; Gainer, Davis and Lowry are also charged with conspiracy to commit fraud in connection with a major disaster or emergency benefit; and Gainer is charged with making a materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation to federal agents of the U.S. government.

Amasa Lamont Camp, 23, an inmate at SCI-Fayette, is charged with knowingly filing, or aiding and abetting the filing, of a claim for PUA benefits that contained materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements. According to the complaint, Camp used Global Tel-Link electronic messages to provide his personal identifiers to a member of his family for the purpose of fraudulently applying for PUA benefits on his behalf.

Izona Punch, of 7403 Race Street, Pittsburgh, PA, is charged with knowingly filing a claim for PUA benefits that contained materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements in the name of SCI - Fayette inmate "RP" without his knowledge.

Jerrell Huddleston, who was incarcerated at Lawrence County Jail from approximately March 17, 2020 to July 24, 2020, then transferred to the Northeast Ohio Correction Facility where he is currently located, and Kalaurie Elahdy (claim filer), age, of 101 W. Ridge Ave., Sharpsville, PA 16150, are charged with knowingly filing, or aiding and abetting the filing, of a claim for PUA benefits that contained materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements and conspiring to commit fraud in connection with a major disaster or emergency benefits.

Tylan Huddleston, 25, incarcerated at Lawrence County Jail since June 5, 2020, and Paris Davis (claim filer), 23, of 10 W. Reynolds Street, New Castle, PA, are charged with knowingly filing, or aiding and abetting the filing, of a claim for PUA benefits that contained materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements; and Huddleston and Davis are also charged with conspiring to commit fraud in connection with a major disaster or emergency benefit.

Clifford Yoders, 40, incarcerated at Butler County Prison since June 11, 2020, is charged with knowingly filing, or aiding and abetting the filing, of a claim for PUA benefits that contained materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements. According to the complaint, Yoders used a jail phone to direct a relative to file the claim.

Lisa Lutz, 60, of 113 Snow Shoe Lane, Greensburg, Pennsylvania 15601, is charged with knowingly filing, or aiding and abetting the filing, of a claim for PUA benefits that contained materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements. The claim was filed on behalf of her daughter, Terra Rager, an inmate at Westmoreland County Prison. According to the complaint, the funds received were utilized to pay her daughter’s expenses, including her attorney fees and her rent and to make deposits onto her commissary at the Westmoreland County Prison.

Gary Clanton, 33, an inmate at SCI-Fayette since July 3, 2014, is charged with knowingly filing, or aiding and abetting the filing, of a claim for PUA benefits that contained materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements. According to the complaint, Clanton used Global Tel-Link electronic messages to provide his personal identifiers to an unidentified male for the purpose of fraudulently applying for PUA benefits on his behalf.

Jamelle Fairfax, 32, an inmate at SCI-Fayette since March 30, 2020, and he was still incarcerated at the time of the application filing, and Amanda Fairfax (wife and claim filer), 35, of Uniontown, PA 15402, are charged with knowingly filing, or aiding and abetting the filing, of a claim for PUA benefits that contained materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements, and with conspiring to commit fraud in connection with a major disaster or emergency benefit.

According the affidavits filed in these cases, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program is a new federal program created as part of the CARES Act. The PUA program provides unemployment benefits to workers who have lost their jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. In Pennsylvania, the PUA program is administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry (DLI), but its benefits are funded in large part by the federal government. PUA benefits are paid in connection with the President’s declaration that the COVID-19 pandemic constitutes an emergency under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act.

Individuals are only eligible for PUA benefits if they are both unemployed for reasons related to the COVID-19 pandemic and available to work. In order to receive benefits, an individual must access the PUA website and file a PUA claim. The applicant is required to enter personally identifiable information as well as answer the eligibility questions. Individuals who are serving a sentence of incarceration, or who are detained pending a criminal trial, are neither available for work nor unemployed for reasons related to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, they are not eligible to receive PUA benefits for the period of their incarceration.

The criminal complaints detail the defendants’ alleged roles in the acquisition of PUA benefits. In general, the inmates used jail phones or other inmate communications to direct or assist persons outside the prison to file claims online using the inmate’s accurate Personal Identifying Information (PII), including full name, date of birth, and Social Security number, but falsely asserting that the inmate is available to work and is unemployed as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic. The benefits were then directed to the applicants’ on-file addresses outside of the correctional facility. Once approved, applicants were required to provide weekly certifications to continue to receive PUA program benefits.

Several of the federal complaints filed contain transcripts of jail calls or other inmate communications that allege the defendants knew that the statements or representations being made were false, and that financial benefits would be awarded.

Title 18, United States Code, Section 1040(a)(2), prohibits fraud in connection with emergency benefits; Title 18, United States Code, Section 371, prohibits two or more people conspiring to commit a federal crime or defraud the United States; and Title 18 United States Code, prohibits lying to a federal law enforcement agent in the course of an investigation. For a violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1040(a)(2), the law provides for a maximum total sentence of 30 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both. For violations of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371 and Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001, the law provides for a maximum total sentence of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed would be based upon the seriousness of the offenses and the prior criminal history, if any, of the defendant.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brendan McKenna, Jonathon Lusty, Benjamin Risacher, Christopher Cook, and Michael Ivory are prosecuting these cases on behalf of the federal government.

The following individuals were named in criminal complaints filed in the Pennsylvania Courts of Common Pleas and will be arrested this week by the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney

Jessica Rae Conrad and Homer Mizenko of Kiskiminetas Township, PA, have been fraudulently signing people up for PUA benefits who they know are not eligible to receive the benefits. In exchange for signing the people up for benefits, Conrad and Mizenko are being paid by the people they are registering. Typically, $1,000 per person. Conrad and Mizenko are being charged with 1 count of Conspiracy (F-2) and 1 count of Theft by Deception (F-2).

Thaddeus Crumbley and Steven Ashby are incarcerated at Forest State Correctional Institution. The

investigation uncovered that they both falsely filed for PUA benefits and have been fraudulently filing for others at the prison in exchange for drugs and/or money. Crumbly and Ashby are charged with 1 count of Conspiracy (F-2) and 1 count of Theft by Deception (F-2).

Robert Currington is incarcerated in Somerset County Correctional Facility. He, with the help of an unidentified woman outside of prison, filed fraudulent PUA claims for himself and other inmates at the prison. Currington is charged with 1 count of Conspiracy (F-2) and 1 count of Theft by Deception (F-2).

Under Pennsylvania law, they each face up to 20 years in jail and fines and penalties up to $50,000. Ms. Conrad and Mr. Mizenko face 30 years in jail and $75,000 because of additional identity theft charges.

These cases are being prosecuted by Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Zarallo and Senior Deputy Attorney General Katherine Wymard.

Members of the Western Pennsylvania COVID-19 Fraud Task Force conducted the investigation leading to the charges in these cases. The Task Force was formed in March 2020 to investigate and prosecute coronavirus-related fraud. Task Force members include representatives from the United States Attorney’s Office, the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Secret Service, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)/Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), U.S. Department of Labor – Office of Inspector General, Social Security Administration – Office of Inspector General, the U.S. Department of Education – Office of Inspector General and the Pennsylvania State Police.

The United States Secret Service played an important role in these prosecutions, as did investigators from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and the individual county jails, including the Allegheny County Jail. Investigators from the Allegheny County Jail, who are detectives with the Allegheny County Police, were among the first investigators who uncovered the fraud of Wilford and Norris and brought it to the attention of federal authorities.

United States Attorney Scott W. Brady and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro urged those who have filed fraudulent claims to withdraw them and further urged those who received a check or debit card as a result of that fraud to return those items. Both Mr. Brady and Mr. Shapiro expect further prosecutions as a result of this fraud.

If you believe you have been a target or victim of coronavirus-related fraud, please report it to the Task Force at:

• Western Pennsylvania COVID-19 Fraud Task Force’s Toll Free Hotline:

1-888-C19-WDPA or 1-888-219-9372

• Western Pennsylvania COVID-19 Fraud Task Force’s email address:

• Pennsylvania Attorney General’s price gouging email address:

pricegouging@attorneygeneral.gov

A criminal complaint is merely a formal charging document and is not evidence of guilt. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

Topic(s): 
Coronavirus
Financial Fraud
Updated August 25, 2020