3 Inland Empire women plead guilty to using inmates’ information to get COVID jobless aid

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Inmates at San Quentin State Prison wait in line on Aug. 15, 2016. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

Inmates at San Quentin State Prison wait in line on Aug. 15, 2016. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

Three Inland Empire women have admitted to fraud charges alleging they submitted dozens of claims for pandemic-related unemployment benefits using other people’s identities, including state prison inmates’, prosecutors said Monday.  

Each of the women received more than $350,000 in benefits and faces up to 30 years in federal prison as a result of their guilty plea, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Riverside said in a news release.

The three defendants — Paris Denise Thomas, a 33-year-old San Bernardino woman; Sequoia Edwards, 35, of Moreno Valley; and 42-year-old Mireya Ramos of Colton — were convicted on one count each of wire fraud, officials said.

The women applied for expanded unemployment benefits under the CARES Act, which extended eligibility to people who didn’t previously qualify such as business owners and self-employed workers. However, the pandemic relief law didn’t extend benefits to prison inmates.

California struggled to process the millions of claims submitted as businesses statewide were suddenly shuttered by stay-at-home orders. The state has acknowledged the Employment Development Department was bilked out of hundreds of millions of dollars that went to fraudsters, including inmates.

Thomas admitted in her plea agreement that she filed at least 47 bogus benefits claims from June to December last year after receiving the personal information of state inmates and others. She submitted the claims online under each stolen identity, falsely stating the person lost their job due to the pandemic, prosecutors said.

Thomas then allegedly sold for cash the electronic benefit payment debit cards and EDD website login credentials she received. She caused the disbursal of about $477,000 in fraudulent benefits, officials said.

Edwards admitted to using the information of inmates and others to file at least 27 fake claims last summer and took in the benefits up until March, garnering more than $456,000, prosecutors said.

Ramos, meanwhile, submitted around 37 false claims, also using personal information from inmates and others, from last June to December, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Prosecutors say Ramos received around $356,000 in unemployment benefits.

Ramos is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 27, while Thomas’ sentencing is set for Sept. 13. Edwards’ sentencing will be scheduled at a later date, officials said.

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