“It is important that we investigate those who stole from a fund created to help families during the COVID-19 pandemic and recover the money. Local, state and federal investigators continue to identify suspects and forward their cases for prosecution.” – CSLEA President Alan Barcelona
FRESNO —On February 9, 2023, Garrett Scott Wheelen, 32, of Fresno, was sentenced to two years in prison for mail fraud and possession of stolen mail. In addition, Wheelen was also ordered to pay $27,664 in restitution to California’s Employment Development Department (EDD).
According to court documents, between August and November 2020, Wheelen perpetrated a mail fraud scheme to defraud the State of California by submitting fraudulent Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claims to EDD. PUA was a federal unemployment insurance program established by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and administered by EDD, to provide unemployment benefits to people impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wheelen used personally identifiable information (PII) and other information associated with real people to submit fraudulent unemployment insurance and PUA claims to EDD. The claims were submitted for his own benefit and included information relating to employment and mailing addresses that were not associated with the claimants. EDD approved at least some of the claims and caused Bank of America to mail debit cards containing unemployment benefits to an address under Wheelen’s control.
Wheelen obtained the PII of his victims by stealing U.S. mail from mailboxes, receptacles and at least one mail truck. He also harvested bankcards and checks for use in fraudulent activity. For example, on Sept. 4, 2020, in Fresno County, Wheelen was in possession of California State driver’s licenses, credit cards, and checks that he had stolen from U.S. mail. At least some of this mail came into his possession when he broke into a mail truck in Fresno on Aug. 11, 2020.
This case was the product of an investigation by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the California EDD’s Investigation Division, and the Reedley Police Department.