A Riverside County jail inmate and two associates not in custody allegedly conspired to steal $18,000 in unemployment insurance benefits by filing a series of fraudulent claims submitted when the state began distributing relief funds stemming from the public health lockdowns, authorities said Thursday.

Brian Jay Davidson, 58, Blake Fallon, 51, and Jessica Kaye, 44, all of Moreno Valley, will be charged with conspiracy, grand theft and fraud for the alleged acts that siphoned money from the California Employment Development Department, joining untold numbers of others statewide who did the same thing, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

“The scope and impact of this fraud is outrageous,” District Attorney Mike Hestrin said. “The losses statewide are estimated in the billions of dollars and could be double-digit billions.”

A report released on Jan. 28 by California State Auditor Elaine Howle estimated the EDD last year disbursed at least $10.4 billion in benefits based on fraudulent claims.

“What is particularly offensive about these crimes is that these criminals are stealing much-needed benefits from people experiencing extreme economic hardship because of the … lockdowns,” Hestrin said. “We as state and local government officials have to cooperate with one another to make sure this never happens again.”

Davidson is awaiting trial for an alleged vehicular homicide in 2019. He, Fallon and Kaye are friends and were identified during an investigation handled by the D.A.’s Bureau of Investigation. The agency said the felony charges will likely be filed against the trio before the end of the month.

Fallon and Kaye were arrested last week but immediately released on their own recognizance because of a limitation on bookings established by the Superior Court to curb COVID-19 exposure risks in jails. Davidson is being held on $1 million bail at the Robert Presley Jail in downtown Riverside.

The D.A.’s office said search warrants were served as part of the investigation at properties in Moreno Valley and Redlands, leading to the seizure of documents and cash.

A related investigation focused on a state prison inmate, whose identity was not disclosed, led to a search warrant being served at an apartment in the 47000 block of Clinton Street in Indio.

“Investigators seized evidence related to the investigation, as well as an undisclosed amount of cash and an unregistered firearm,” according to a D.A.’s statement. “No arrests in that case have been made at this time.”

The search warrant in Redlands targeted a residence in the 1300 block of East Citrus Avenue, and another prison inmate, also not identified by prosecutors, is linked to alleged EDD fraud. A probationer was taken into custody at the house, but not for fraud, according to the D.A.’s office.

According to prosecutors, Fallon and Kaye allegedly used Davidson’s personal information to file for unemployment benefits with his consent.

The fraud claims, up and down the state, relate to the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance provided under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Security Act, according to officials.

The audit uncovered instances in which the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General flagged nearly 3 million unemployment claims as likely connected to fraud, but the EDD failed to respond proactively to stanch it.

Inmates incarcerated in multiple counties are under investigation. The audit indicated more than $800 million in benefits were distributed to prisoners.

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