FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – Former gang members and inmates were each sentenced to more than five years in prison for a COVID-19-related unemployment insurance fraud scheme according to the United States Department of Justice.

Officials say that Sholanda Thomas, 38, a former gang member and an inmate at the Central California Woman’s Facility (CCWF) in Chowchilla, was sentenced on Monday, October 3, to five years and five months in prison for conspiring to submit fraudulent unemployment insurance claims to the California Employment Development Department (EDD) in the names of other CCWF inmates.

The court documents say that Thomas sent her own and other inmates’ personally identifiable information to Christina Smith, a parolee, and former gang member to submit the unemployment insurance claims in their names. The applications falsely reported that the inmates had been working as carpet cleaners, hair stylists, mechanics, and other jobs. This was not possible as they were incarcerated and ineligible for benefits.

According to the Department of Justice, the loss to the EDD and the United States was over $200,000. The proceeds were spent on various personal expenses, including plastic surgery for Smith. In September of 2021, Smith was sentenced to five years in prison for her role in the conspiracy.

This case was the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, The California Department of Corrections, and Rehabilitation’s Investigative Services Unit, and the EDD.