An Antelope Valley woman was sentenced Wednesday to a year in federal prison for her role in a scheme that held out the false promise of roles in bogus remakes of the movies “Cocoon” and “On Golden Pond” as bait in an identity-theft scam targeting senior citizens.
Dena Buttram of Littlerock — who uses the last name Peterman — was also ordered by U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee to pay restitution of about $220,000 and serve three years of supervised release after she gets out of prison.
“I know I messed up,” Buttram told the court. “I broke the law.”
Buttram, 33, pleaded guilty in October to one federal count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. She admittedo using stolen Social Security numbers and other personal data in an effort to defraud the state’s unemployment insurance program out of nearly $300,000 over the course of two years.
“Nobody’s saying she was a mastermind of insurance fraud,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kerry Quinn told the judge. “Nonetheless, Ms. Buttram played a vital role in a fraud that targeted a vulnerable government program.”
Conspirators in the scheme victimized senior citizens in the Southland and elsewhere by obtaining their personal information with the promise of an opportunity to be cast in movie remakes, court documents show.
To further the scheme, bogus companies supposedly related to the movie industry with names such as Nine Maids Movie Production, Western Film Animation and High Desert Productions were created.
Using stolen personal data, a conspirator in the operation filed fictitious wage reports with the California Employment Development Department and then fraudulently sought unemployment insurance benefits for the people who supposedly worked for the movie companies, according to prosecutors.
The EDD subsequently provided unemployment insurance benefits in the names of those individuals through debit cards that were mailed to addresses that Buttram or her co-conspirators controlled.
As a result of the scheme, Buttram sought more than $290,000 in unemployment insurance benefits, and the EDD suffered losses of roughly $220,000, federal prosecutors said.
In unsuccessfully arguing for a probationary sentence, federal public defender Moriah S. Radin said her client has a history of addiction, suffered abuse at the hands of various men and is now terminally ill.
“She reads at a first-grade level,” Radin added.
Quinn said the true mastermind of the scheme is mentally incompetent as a result of a stroke and cannot be prosecuted.
Before handing down the sentence, Gee said Buttram had “made a lot of bad decisions in her life.”
However, the judge said, “This type of fraud weakens the unemployment insurance system, which is already under-funded.”
Gee said Buttram’s previous criminal history included drug and theft charges resulting in a six-month stay in county jail.
“I sincerely hope you have learned your lesson,” the judge said.
—Staff and wire reports