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More than 35,000 unemployment claims filed in names of prison inmates, including Scott Peterson

Kern Valley State Prison (FILE)
Posted at 1:55 PM, Nov 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-25 23:40:37-05

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A California prosecutor says someone has filed an unemployment claim in the name of convicted murderer Scott Peterson. Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said it is one of at least 35,000 unemployment claims made on behalf of prison inmates between March and August.

Of the 35,000 statewide claims that were filed, around 20,000 were paid out and state has paid out at least $140 million in benefits. At least 158 claims have been filed for 133 inmates on death row.

In Kern County, District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer said over 4,000 fraudulent applications were filed from correctional facilities in the county. Of those, 2,500 of those claims were paid out totaling about $16 million.

"In my nearly four decades as a prosecutor in this state, I have never seen fraud of this magnitude," said Zimmer.

Added Kern County Deputy District Attorney Joe Kinzel: "We're looking at the biggest level of fraud California has ever seen."

On Tuesday, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation issued the following statement: "At the Governor’s direction, the department has worked with the Employment Development Department, the U.S. Department of Labor and the local District Attorneys to stop these illegal activities inside state prisons. We will continue to partner with the local District Attorneys to provide whatever resources and information are needed to investigate and prosecute this latest development."

Death row inmates with claims opened in their names include Scott Peterson, who is convicted of killing his wife and unborn son. Also, serial killer Cary Stayner, who murdered four people near Yosemite in 1999.

According to ABC10, inmates were able to file claims using real names, addresses, and Social Security Numbers, said Schubert, along with fake names including "John Doe" and "Poopy Britches."

"The murderers, and rapists, and human traffickers should not be getting this money," said Schubert. "It needs to stop."

Schubert called it perhaps the biggest fraud of taxpayer dollars in California history. Prosecutors say the scam involves people outside of prison filing claims on behalf of the inmates.

ABC10 previously reported on inmates at the San Mateo County Jail who were able to scam EDD out of hundreds of thousands of dollars of unemployment benefits. After learning about the scam in San Mateo, the District Attorneys requested a list of inmates and compared it with a list of people who had received unemployment benefits from EDD.

El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson called the magnitude of fraud problems inside EDD "dysfunctional" adding, as you go up the chain of command, there is a "lack of responsibility on that side."

The District Attorneys have now sent a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom asking for his involvement and to escalate resources to help investigate and prosecute the fraud.

Back in September, Assemblymember Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield) officially submitted an emergency request to audit the Employment Development Department. Salas was joined by a bipartisan group of 37 legislators.

For months, Californians have complained to lawmakers and news outlets saying EDD was struggling to get them money. Many described calling the department hundreds of times a day trying to speak with someone about a filed claim.

On Tuesday, Salas issued the following statement in connection to the continuing issues: "I called for an independent audit of the EDD because of widespread problems within the department. Reports of people defrauding the system who should not be receiving EDD funds is unacceptable. I plan to continue holding oversight hearings and working with my colleagues to introduce legislation to help fix EDD."