Grand Jury Indicts Six in Ongoing Investigations into COVID Unemployment Insurance Fraud Schemes
PROVIDENCE, R.I (STL.News) A federal grand jury has returned four indictments charging six individuals with allegedly executing schemes to defraud unemployment agencies in multiple states by fraudulently applying for and receiving tens of thousands of dollars in regular and expanded pandemic related unemployment insurance benefits, at times using the stolen identities of unsuspecting individuals, announced Acting United States Attorney Richard B. Myrus and Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Neronha.
It is alleged that the defendants filed unemployment insurance claims online, seeking benefits from the Federal Pandemic Assistance Program and the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Program, both of which are designed to aid persons impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic. The indictments allege that when filing for benefits, the defendants fraudulently claimed to have been previously employed in each state, but were, at the time, unemployed. In some instances, investigations by the FBI and Rhode Island State Police into the alleged unemployed fraud schemes discovered unrelated criminal conduct.
On Wednesday a federal grand jury returned indictments charging:
Francois Parker, 35, of Providence, with two counts of wire fraud, one count of theft of government money, and two counts of possession of a firearm by a prohibited person. The indictment alleges that between April 2020 and October 2020, Parker submitted fraudulent claims for unemployment insurance benefits in Rhode Island, California, Arizona, Louisiana, Colorado, Texas, New York, Virginia, Wisconsin, Nevada, and Massachusetts. When filing claims in Rhode Island, Parker allegedly claimed, falsely, that he had been employed in Rhode Island from May 20, 2019 to March 17, 2020, as a babysitter. Six states allegedly paid Parker a total of approximately $77,254. Four states denied Parker’s claims.
During the investigation into Parker’s alleged fraudulent filing for unemployment benefits, law enforcement found Parker, who was previously convicted of a felony crime punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding one year, to be in possession of two loaded firearms and more than 200 rounds of live ammunition.
Derrick Gadson, 35, of North Providence, with two counts of wire fraud and one count each of theft of government property and aggravated identity theft. His indictment alleges that beginning in June 2020, Gadson fraudulently submitted online applications for unemployment insurance benefits and other federal pandemic benefits in Arizona, and Massachusetts. It is alleged that Gadson collected a total of approximately $17,325 dollars in benefits that he was not entitled to receive.
Additionally, it was alleged that as part of his scheme to allegedly defraud one or more unemployment insurance programs, Gadson allegedly used the stolen identity of another individual without that person’s permission.
Rashaad Smith Muskelly, 30, of Lincoln, with two counts of wire fraud and one count each of theft of government money and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person. The indictment alleges that beginning in April 2020, Muskelly fraudulently submitted online applications for unemployment insurance benefits and other federal Pandemic unemployment insurance benefits in Rhode Island, California, Arizona, New York, Texas, Virginia, Nevada, and Massachusetts. In a filing with the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training (RIDLT), Muskelly fraudulently claimed to have been employed as a “travel barber.” He was paid approximately $14,658 by RIDLT. An FBI and Rhode Island State Police investigation determined that Muskelly allegedly collected a total of $82,991in fraudulent unemployment insurance benefits.
During the investigation into Muskelly’s alleged fraudulent benefit filings, law enforcement found Muskelly, who was previously convicted of a felony crime punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding one year, to be in possession of loaded semi-automatic pistol.
Jamel Newman, 23, of Pawtucket, Darren Robinson, 21, of Providence, and Rashaad Hill, 21, of Providence are named in a sixteen-count indictment charging each with conspiracy, wire fraud, theft of government funds, and aggravated identity theft. The indictment alleges that beginning in at least April 2020, the defendants conspired with one another to defraud employment insurance benefits programs, including pandemic unemployment assistance programs in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Massachusetts. The indictment alleges some applications submitted by one or more members of the conspiracy used the names and stolen personal information of others.
During the investigation into Newman’s alleged participation in the conspiracy, it is alleged in the indictment that he was found to be in possession of a loaded semi-automatic pistol. Newman is prohibited from possessing a firearm because of his September 2017 and August 2019 convictions in Rhode Island state court on charges of domestic violence – simple assault and/or battery.
These matters and other cases of alleged criminal activity related to fraudulent applications for unemployment insurance benefits due to the pandemic are being investigated jointly by the FBI and Rhode Island State Police, with the assistance of the U.S. Department of Labor. Cases are jointly reviewed, charged and prosecuted by a team including Assistant U.S. Attorneys Denise M. Barton, Stacey P. Veroni, G. Michael Seaman, and Rhode Island Assistant Attorney General John M. Moreira, chief of the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Public Integrity Unit.
Rhode Islanders who believe their personal identification has been stolen and used to fraudulently obtain unemployment benefits are urged to contact the Rhode Island State Police at firstname.lastname@example.org or the FBI Providence office at (401) 272-8310.
On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to marshal the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with agencies across government to enhance efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud. The Task Force bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud by, among other methods, augmenting and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their schemes, and sharing and harnessing information and insights gained from prior enforcement efforts.