From behind bars, a woman serving a life sentence in prison for murder led a ring that got at least $2 million in California unemployment benefits using stolen identities, officials said Wednesday.
Federal authorities on Wednesday arrested five people linked to the ring that used the stolen identities —some of which belonging to California prison inmates — to fraudulently apply for and receive unemployment benefits that were mostly pandemic-related relief, according to the Department of Justice.
At the head of the ring is 37-year-old Natalie Le Demola, a Corona woman serving a life prison sentence after she was convicted in 2005 of first-degree murder, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Thirteen people were charged in the scheme, including 32-year-old Carleisha Neosha Plummer of Los Angeles, who was “a close associate” of Demola in prison until she was paroled in July 2020.
All 13 people were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud in connection with the scheme, which officials say involved illegally obtaining personal identifying information.
Some of the identifying information was provided by an “unnamed prison official” employed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, officials said.
After getting people’s information — like names, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers — the ring would apply online for benefits from the California Employment Development Department, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Some of the identity theft victims whose information was used to apply for benefits weren’t even eligible because they were either employed, retired or incarcerated, officials said.
Once the applications were approved, the crew received debit cards that allowed them to withdraw money from ATMs across Southern California, according to the indictment.
They ended up getting at least $2 million in aid meant for unemployed Californians.
The indictment names various defendants in 31 bank fraud counts and seven aggravated identity theft counts.
Among the defendants named in the indictment, several are in custody: James Antonio Johnson, 31, of Los Angeles, Loresha Shamone Davis, 31, of Moreno Valley, Porsha Latrice Johnson, 32, of Lynwood, Donisha Lashawn Pace, 38, of South L.A., Amber Jane Wade, 34, of Palmdale, Demola and Plummer.
Still being sought are Khanshanda King, 31, of Los Angeles, Cleshay Johnson II, 28, of Los Angeles, Felicite Aleisha King, 41, of Los Angeles, Shafequah Lynete Mitchell, 33, of Los Angeles, Dominique Charmone Martin, 37, of Yucaipa, and Mykara Destiny Robertson, 23, of Los Angeles.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said that conspiracy and bank fraud charges each carry a statutory maximum sentence of 30 years in federal prison.
Aggravated identity theft, meanwhile, carries a mandatory two-year consecutive sentence.