“I suspect EDD and other state and federal investigative agencies will be examining this type of COVID-19 benefit fraudulent activity for many months to come. Combining their resources, they will track down those who abused benefits meant for families struggling to survive during the pandemic.” – CSLEA President Alan Barcelona
FRESNO – On July 12, 2021, Jason Vertz, 51, of Fresno, and Alana Powers, 45, an inmate at the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) in Chowchilla, were each sentenced to five years and one month in prison for conspiracy to commit mail fraud and aggravated identity theft.
According to court documents, Vertz and Powers submitted several fraudulent unemployment insurance claims in Powers’ and other CCWF inmates’ names to the California Employment Development Department (EDD). Recorded jail calls and emails show that Powers and other inmates provided names, dates of birth, and social security numbers for inmates at CCWF to Vertz to submit the fraudulent claims. Shortly thereafter, the benefits were loaded onto debit cards that were mailed to the addresses the defendants provided.
The underlying applications for the claims stated that the inmates had worked within the prescribed period as maids, cleaners, fabrication welders, and other occupations, and that they were available to work, which was not true because they were incarcerated. The claims would have been denied if truthful answers had been given. EDD and the United States suffered a loss of more than $74,000 as a result of the fraud.
This case was the product of an investigation by the FBI, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Investigative Services Unit, and the California EDD.