Fresno man, California inmate each plead guilty to $100,000 COVID fund fraud


FILE: $100 bills. (NEXSTAR)

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — A California prison inmate has pleaded guilty to conspiring to steal more than $100,000 in unemployment benefits, acting U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced on Monday.

The money from the California Employment Development Department (EDD) was supposed to help those who lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s one of the numerous thefts that authorities say together topped $810 million.

Alana Powers, a 45-year-old inmate at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, and 51-year-old Jason Vertz of Fresno, each pleaded guilty Monday to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and aggravated identity theft.

Prosecutors say emails and recorded phone calls show Powers and other prison inmates provided Vertz with the personal identifying information he needed to submit the unemployment applications.

For the count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, Vertz and Powers face a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

For the count of aggravated identity theft, they face a mandatory two-year sentence consecutive to any other sentence.

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