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Three charged in unemployment benefits fraud scheme

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Posted at 4:03 PM, Dec 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-17 19:18:59-05

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Three people were charged in connection to unemployment fraud schemes.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been fraudulently taken in two separate schemes that targeted California Employment Development Department unemployment insurance benefits that were intended for Californians hit hardest by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic shutdown.

The benefits involved billions of dollars in federal subsidies that have been significantly increased through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

On Thursday, the federal grand jury in Fresno returned an indictment involving a prison-based scheme out of the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla. Inmate Sholanda Thomas, 36, and parolee Christina Smith, 37, were indicted for conspiracy to commit mail fraud and aggravated identity theft charges for the submission of several fraudulent EDD unemployment insurance claims in Thomas’ and other CCWF inmates’ names.

This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Investigative Services Unit.

In the second scheme, Andrea M. Gervais, 43, of Roseville – a former Employment Development Department employee – allegedly participated in a mail fraud scheme involving approximately 100 fraudulent Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims in the names of persons other than Gervais. According to the criminal complaint, at least 12 of the 100 claims were processed for payment, and over $200,000 in PUA benefits were paid out to Gervais’s Roseville address in the form of Bank of America debit cards. The total value of all fraudulent PUA claims from her residence was at least $2 million.

This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor – Office of Inspector General, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the California Employment Development Department – Investigation Division. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert J. Artuz is prosecuting the case.

If convicted, Thomas and Smith face a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison for conspiracy to commit mail fraud, and a mandatory and additional two-year prison sentence if convicted of aggravated identity theft. If convicted, Gervais faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison for mail fraud.