A former Amtrak employee from Riverside County pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal criminal charges for conspiring with her husband to steal nearly $1 million in pandemic-related unemployment insurance benefits and for fraudulently obtaining more than $63,000 in sickness benefits while she worked for the railroad company.

Lizette Lathon, 45, entered her plea in Los Angeles to federal counts of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and wire fraud, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Her husband, Kenneth Lathon, 48, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

From 2014 until the present day, Lizette Lathon, in addition to her one-time duties as a service attendant for Amtrak, operated at least three tax preparation businesses: Miracle Tax Service, located on Los Angeles’ Miracle Mile; Hardcore Taxes; and Lathon LLC. The latter two companies were located in Moreno Valley.

The Moreno Valley couple admitted taking advantage of the expanded eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits made possible by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act signed into law in 2020. The CARES Act also established the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provided additional UI benefits to qualified individuals during the coronavirus pandemic including people who did not otherwise qualify for UI such as business owners, self-employed workers, independent contractors and those with a limited work history.

As a result of the fraudulent claims she filed, Bank of America issued debit cards in the names of Lizette Lathon’s former clients, but the cards were mailed to addresses she and her family controlled. She and her husband then used the debit cards to make cash withdrawals at ATMs and to make purchases at retail stores.

During the conspiracy, which lasted from the spring of 2020 until March 2021, Lathon and her husband caused at least 44 fraudulent unemployment claims to be filed, resulting in losses to the California Employment Development Department and the United States Treasury of about $998,630, prosecutors said.

Lizette Lathon, who was employed at Amtrak from 2000 to 2021, also schemed to defraud the Railroad Retirement Board out of sickness benefit payments by filing forged and false claims that stated she was being treated by a medical professional for pain and anxiety. Through this scheme, which lasted from September 2014 to January 2020, she fraudulently obtained about $63,047 in payments.

Kenneth Lathon admitted in his plea agreement to possessing a .22-caliber rifle and 12-gauge shotgun that bore no identifiable serial number despite his criminal history, which includes felony convictions in California state court for theft, cocaine possession and fraud.

U.S. District Judge Fernando Olguin scheduled an April 13 sentencing hearing for the defendants, at which time Lizette Lathon will face a sentence of up to 42 years in federal prison, and Kenneth Lathon will face up to 32 years in prison, prosecutors noted.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *