“Kudos to the investigators who are continuing to identify and investigate those who fraudulently applied for and collected unemployment benefits during a time in which so many hardworking families suddenly found themselves without a source of income as a result of COviD-19. They are working to protect the integrity of these financial assistance programs and their funds.” – CSLEA President Alan Barcelona
SACRAMENTO – On August 1, 2022, Kenneth Ray Hawkins, 47, formerly an inmate at the Deuel Vocational Institution (DVI), a California state prison in Tracy, pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit mail fraud and aggravated identity theft in a scheme to defraud California and the United States, including the California Employment Development Department (EDD), by the submission of fraudulent unemployment insurance claims.
On May 13, 2021, a federal grand jury returned an indictment, charging Hawkins; Jacqueline Marie Marquez, 35, of Barstow and Las Vegas; Alyssa Marie Jones, 34, of Barstow and Las Vegas; and Ebony Chanel Jones, 21, of Barstow, with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and mail fraud. On July 25, 2022, Hawkins was additionally charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and aggravated identity theft.
According to court documents, between June 2020 and January 2021, the four defendants conspired to execute and executed a scheme to defraud by filing fraudulent unemployment insurance claims with EDD, seeking Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits under the CARES Act. During the conspiracy, Hawkins, an inmate at DVI, collected personally identifiable information, including names and Social Security numbers, of California prison inmates and other individuals and used the identities and an unauthorized cellphone to submit dozens of the fraudulent claims from his jail cell. The claims represented, among other things, that the claimants had recently lost employment from businesses or were unable to find employment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These claims were fraudulent because the inmates were incarcerated, not recently employed, and ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits.
In the applications, Hawkins requested that the benefits be mailed to various California and Nevada addresses that were under the control of one or more co-conspirators. EDD approved at least 60 of the fraudulent claims and authorized Bank of America to mail out EDD debit cards containing benefits. Marquez, Alyssa Jones, and Ebony Jones then obtained the EDD debit cards and used them to withdraw the benefits at ATMs throughout California and Nevada for the benefit of the conspirators. The scheme sought over $1 million and resulted in EDD paying out over $890,000.
This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Office of Correctional Safety, the DVI Investigative Services Unit, and the California Employment Development Department – Investigation Division. Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert J. Artuz is prosecuting the case.
Alyssa Jones, Ebony Jones and Marquez await sentencing after having also pleaded guilty to their participation in the scheme.
Hawkins is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 24, 2022. Hawkins faces a maximum statutory penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for conspiracy and a mandatory, consecutive two-year prison term for aggravated identity theft.