SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Congratulations to California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA) Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Member and California Employment Development Department (EDD) Investigator Celia Lopez for receiving the United States Attorney's Office 2015 Eastern District of California Outstanding Investigator Award for the Sacramento division. This award is one of four awards presented annually to a law enforcement agency and an officer in each of the Sacramento and Fresno divisions of the Eastern District of California to recognize outstanding collaboration between federal, state and local law enforcement.
"If you followed this case in the headlines, you know this was a long, complex investigation into an elaborate, decades-long scheme that bilked millions of dollars in unemployment money," said CSLEA President Alan Barcelona. "Kudos to Investigator Lopez for busting this case wide open. We are extremely proud of her."
Celia Lopez earned the Sacramento division’s 2015 Outstanding Investigator Award for her work in a sprawling unemployment and disability benefit fraud investigation in Sutter County with criminal conduct that spanned decades and resulted in over $14 million in loss.
According to the U.S. Attorney's press release, Lopez was the original case agent for the case and, working with agents from the FBI and the Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, she helped to bring five indictments against 29 individuals. The lead defendant, Mohammad Nawaz Khan, was sentenced to 12 and a half years in prison, Mohammad Adnan Khan was sentenced to nine years in prison, Mohammad Shahbaz Khan was sentenced to seven years in prison, and Iqila Begum Khan was sentenced to five years in prison.
U.S. Attorney Wagner stated: “It is my honor to recognize Celia Lopez for her work that led to the complete dismantling of one of the most sophisticated and wide-reaching fraud schemes our district has seen. Her work on this case was timely, thorough, and meticulous. We thank her for her service.”
The Khans sold fake paystubs and reported false wages to EDD for the individuals who purchased those paystubs. The purchasers used the fake paystubs to fraudulently claim unemployment and disability benefits. Over the course of the conspiracy, the defendants reported wages for over 400 separate individuals that resulted in more than 2,000 fraudulent claims for unemployment and disability benefits.
Investigator Lopez marshaled over 20 years of voluminous records evidencing criminal conduct involving hundreds of potential subjects. She conducted scores of interviews of both criminal participants and witnesses. She worked tirelessly to identify not only the organizers of the scheme, but also the most culpable other participants in the scheme that should face charges. Investigator Lopez was able to distill the complex case into manageable documents, understandable spreadsheets, and persuasive charts. Even after the initial indictment was brought in 2012, she continued to investigate and discovered that the brothers of the main subject restarted the fraud scheme under other names shortly after the initial arrests. Investigator Lopez worked quickly to bring that evidence to the attention of the U.S. Attorney’s Office before the loss spiraled out of control. It resulted in an extensive grand jury investigation and perjury charges against new participants. Because of Investigator Lopez’s work, less than $30,000 was lost from the new scheme.
“Investigator Celia Lopez’s dedication to combating fraud through her extensive and detailed investigative work was evident in the successful prosecution of a major unemployment and disability insurance fraud scheme that occurred in Sutter County," said EDD Director Patrick W. Henning, Jr. "It is due to her dedication that investigator Lopez was recently awarded the Outstanding Investigator Award for 2015 by the U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner.”