A Moreno Valley woman was arrested Friday and charged with filing fraudulent pandemic-related unemployment insurance claims involving criminals behind bars worth almost a half-million dollars.
Sequoia Edwards, 35, of Moreno Valley, was expected to make her first court appearance late Friday after being charged with filing at least 27 fraudulent unemployment insurance claims over two months last summer, at least six of which used information belonging to California prison inmates that she allegedly received from her incarcerated cousin, according to the Department of Justice.
Federal prosecutors allege she received at least $455,000 in ill-gotten unemployment benefits.
According to the affidavit in support of her criminal complaint, FBI agents executed a search warrant at Edwards’ home in February and allegedly found several debit cards issued by the Employment Development Department and $45,000 in cash.
Edwards is expected to make her initial appearance at the U.S. District Court in Riverside.
Two other Inland Empire women were also arrested in similar cases this week.
Mireya Ramos, 42, of Colton, was arrested Thursday for allegedly filing at least 37 fraudulent unemployment insurance claims.
Federal prosecutors said most of the claims submitted in the names of inmates in the state prison system and many of them falsely stated the applicants were barbers who could not work due to the pandemic.
An affidavit in support of her criminal complaint states that Ramos obtained the inmates’ personal information from her long-time boyfriend, who is currently serving a life sentence in Calipatria State Prison.
As a result of the fraudulent claims, the EDD issued at least $353,532 in unemployment benefits from June 2020 through January 2021, according to federal prosecutors.
During a court appearance Thursday afternoon, Ramos was released on a $10,000 bond, and an arraignment was scheduled for May 4.
The third woman arrested was Paris Thomas, 33, of San Bernardino. She was taken into custody on Wednesday for allegedly filing approximately 49 fraudulent unemployment insurance applications, at least 15 of which were filed in the names of people incarcerated in state prisons, a federal prison and county jails, according to the DOJ.
The 49 fraudulent claims caused EDD to disburse more than $440,000 in unemployment benefits from June 2020 to December 2020, according to the affidavit in support of Thomas’ criminal complaint.
The affidavit also notes that during a search of Thomas’ residence in February, FBI agents allegedly seized EDD cards and a notebook filled with the personal information of more than 40 people.
When she appeared in court on Wednesday, a U.S. magistrate judge released Thomas on a $10,000 bond and ordered her to appear for an arraignment on May 11.
All three defendants were charged in separate criminal complaints, and each woman faces two counts — fraud in connection with emergency benefits and wire fraud.
The charge of fraud in connection with emergency benefits carries a statutory maximum sentence of 30 years in federal prison, and wire fraud carries a maximum possible penalty of 20 years in prison.
According to the DOJ, there has been an “unprecedented explosion” in unemployment insurance fraud over the past year, during which time the federal government has provided enhanced unemployment benefits to those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The DOJ said about 150 people have been charged with crimes related to unemployment insurance fraud across the country in the last year, a dozen of which have been charged by prosecutors in the Central District of California.
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