Fresno man, Chowchilla prison inmate indicted by federal grand jury for state EDD fraud scheme of over $103k amid COVID-19 pandemic

Crime

FILE – In this Dec. 18, 2020, file photo, a person passes the office of the California Employment Development Department in Sacramento, Calif (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) — A Fresno man and an inmate at the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) in Chowchilla were indicted by a federal grand jury for an unemployment fraud scheme that targeted benefits intended for Californians affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Justice Department.

Jason Vertz, 51, of Fresno, and Alana Powers, 45, a CCWF inmate, were charged Thursday with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft, said Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert. The indictment was unsealed and Vertz was arraigned Tuesday following his arrest.

According to court documents, Vertz and Powers submitted several fradulent unemployment insurance claims in Powers’ and other CCWF inmates’ names to the state Employment Development Department (EDD). Recorded jail calls and emails showed that Powers and other inmates provided names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers for inmates at the prison to Vertz to submit the fradulent claims.

The benefits were then loaded onto debit cards that were mailed to the addresses the pair provided.

The applications for the claims stated the inmates had worked within the prescribed period as maids, cleaners, fabrication welders, and other occupations and that they were available to work, which was not true since they were incarcerated, said spokeswoman Lauren Horwood. The claims would have been denied if accurate answeres were given.

The EDD and the U.S. government sustained a loss of over $103,000 as a result of the fraud.

If they are convicted of the conspiracy to commit mail fraud, Vertz and Powers each face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, the Justice Department said. If convicted of the aggravated identity theft charge, they face a mandatory two-year sentence consecutive to any other sentence.

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