Former USC football player accused of orchestrating fraud scheme to obtain California COVID jobless benefits

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USC linebacker Abdul-Malik McClain (42) sits on the bench during the final seconds of the second half of an NCAA college football game in a 37-14 loss to Texas on Sept. 15, 2018, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

USC linebacker Abdul-Malik McClain (42) sits on the bench during the final seconds of the second half of an NCAA college football game in a 37-14 loss to Texas on Sept. 15, 2018, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

A college football player was taken into custody Monday on federal charges alleging he orchestrated a scheme that fraudulently sought hundreds of thousands of dollars in COVID-related unemployment benefits.

Abdul-Malik McClain, 22, is a former USC player who left the school amid a federal probe into his brother and currently attends Jackson State in Mississippi, according to the Los Angeles Times.

McClain surrendered to federal law enforcement in Los Angeles Monday morning before being arraigned in the afternoon, according to the United States District Attorney for the Central District of California.

A federal grand jury indictment returned on Dec. 16 and unsealed Monday charges McClain with 10 counts of mail fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft, the D.A.’s office said.

McClain, who was residing in L.A. in 2020 during the alleged scheme, pleaded not guilty to the charges against him and was ordered released on a $20,000 bond.

While a member of his university’s football team, McClain organized and assisted a group of other football players in filing fraudulent claims for unemployment benefits, including under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program established by Congress in response to the pandemic’s economic fallout, according to the indictment obtained by the D.A.’s office.

The indictment alleges that the claims, which were filed with the California Employment Development Department (EDD), contained false information about the football players’ supposed prior employment, pandemic-related job loss and job-seeking efforts in California.

The false statements in the applications led EDD to authorize Bank of America to mail debit cards to the football players, the indictment alleges. Those debit cards were loaded with at least hundreds of dollars, and sometimes thousands of dollars, in unemployment benefits, which the recipients used to make cash withdrawals at ATMs and to fund personal expenses, the U.S. District Attorney’s office said.

In some cases, McClain got a cut of the money for helping others file fraudulent UI applications, prosecutors said.

McClain and his co-schemers also allegedly filed applications in their own names, in the names of other friends and associates, and in the names of identity theft victims.

According to the indictment, the claims also falsely stated that the claimants were self-employed workers, including athletic trainers and tutors, who had lost work in California as a result of the pandemic. The allegedly false claims also induced EDD to authorize Bank of America to issue debit cards in the names of the claimants. The indictment alleges that McClain and his co-schemers caused those cards to be mailed to addresses where they could collect the mail.

McClain allegedly caused at least three dozen fraudulent applications to be filed with EDD during the summer of 2020. According to the indictment, those fraudulent applications sought at least $903,688 in PUA benefits and led the EDD to pay out at least $227,736.

During Monday’s arraignment, McClain was ordered to stand trial on Feb. 15, 2022.

Each mail fraud count carries a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison. The aggravated identity theft counts carry a two-year mandatory prison sentence consecutive to any sentence imposed on the mail fraud counts.

The matter was investigated by the FBI, the U.S. Department of Labor, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration and the Social Security Administration.

McClain’s university, called “University 1” in the indictment, is believed to be USC based on the time of McClain’s enrollment, according to the L.A. Times. University 1 cooperated in the investigation, the indictment added.

Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it to the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF online complaint form.

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