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Press Release

Seventeen Southwest Virginia Co-Conspirators Face Federal Fraud Charges in Pandemic Unemployment Benefit Scheme

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Virginia
Defendants Stole $341,205 in Pandemic Relief Money

ABINGDON, Va. – A federal grand jury in Abingdon, Virginia returned an indictment May 21, 2024 charging 17 individuals with conspiring to defraud the United States by filing fraudulent claims for pandemic unemployment benefits.

The grand jury has charged Josef Ludwig Brown, Crystal Samantha Shaw, Jonathan Scott Webb,  Christopher Kirk Webb, Stephanie Amber Barton, Haleigh McKenzie Wolfe, Terrence Brooks Vilacha, Cara Camille Bailey, Jessica Dawn Lester, Brian Edward Addair, Russell Eric Stiltner,  Joseph Frederick Hass,  Daneil Wayne Horton, Justin Warren Meadows, Jason Dale Worley, Jeramy Blake Farmer, and Clinton Michael Altizer with conspiring to defraud the United States, fraud in connection with emergency benefits, and conspiring to commit mail fraud.

“The COVID-19 global pandemic significantly influenced the world economy and caused increased unemployment and jobless claims throughout our country,” United States Attorney Christopher R. Kavanaugh said today. “Many Virginians who lost their jobs due to the pandemic were able to endure because of the CARES Act. However, some cheated the system and diverted resources intended to help those most affected by the pandemic, and my Office remains committed to not only recovering fraudulently obtained funds, but also vigorously prosecuting those responsible.”

“Special agents from our office teamed up with our federal and local law enforcement partners and the United States Attorney to take down a conspiracy of incarcerated individuals alleged to have defrauded the unemployment insurance benefits program under the CARES Act,” said Brian D. Miller, Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery. “SIGPR will remain dedicated to holding accountable those who targeted pandemic recovery funds until it is disbanded in March 2025.”

“These defendants took advantage of a global pandemic that caused immense suffering across the country and exploited relief programs intended to help those in dire need. We remain committed to holding criminals accountable for their crimes,” said FBI Richmond Special Agent in Charge Stanley M. Meador. “We are proud to have worked this investigation with our law enforcement partners and the United States Attorney’s Office to bring justice to these victims.”

“Bad actors seized on the opportunity to exploit the chaos and uncertainty brought on by the pandemic and shamelessly pocketed CARE Act funds intended to support unemployed Virginians whose lives were uprooted by COVID-19,” said Attorney General Miyares. “Collaboration among local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies yield results, and I'm proud to be one step closer to justice.”

According to court documents, in March of 2020, Josef Brown, Jonathan Webb, and Crystal Shaw began their scheme to steal money intended for legitimate victims of the severely impacted Virginia economy by gathering the dates of birth, social security numbers, and other personal identification information of friends and acquaintances incarcerated at Haysi Regional Jail in Dickenson County, and then filling out pandemic unemployment claim forms for each of the ineligible inmates via the Virginia Employment Commission’s website dedicated to pandemic relief.

In all, the defendants stole $341,205 in pandemic relief to which they were not entitled.

As part of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC) Task Force, this investigation was conducted by the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery. The PRAC’s 20-member Inspectors General identify major risks that cross program and agency boundaries to detect fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement in the more than $5 trillion in COVID-19 spending.

Agencies that assisted with this investigation included the Dickenson County Sheriff’s Office, the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the Virginia Employment Commission.

Special Assistant U.S. Attorney M. Suzanne Kerney-Quillen, a Senior Assistant Attorney General with the Virginia Attorney General’s Major Crimes and Emerging Threats Section, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Danielle Stone are prosecuting the case for the United States.

An indictment is merely an allegation, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Updated June 3, 2024

Disaster Fraud