Former government contract worker accused of defrauding pandemic loans with detained boyfriend
A former employee who worked for the California unemployment insurance program has been accused of conspiring with her boyfriend in prison to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars in pandemic aid, the office said Thursday from the US attorney.
Nyika Gomez, 40, of San Diego was arrested at her home on Wednesday and pleaded not guilty to wire fraud and identity theft charges in federal court in San Diego.
The scam is among several that the investigators discovered in recent months, involving fraudulent COVID-19 unemployment payments to inmates, including notoriously convicted murderer Scott Peterson in San Quentin State Prison. Earlier this month, state officials said at least $ 400 million had been paid for some 21,000 of those jail requests.
Federal investigators said Thursday that $ 21,000 went to an address in Roseville under the name and social security number by US Senator Dianne Feinstein. They said this and other fraudulent claims had been linked to another woman who previously worked for the state.
Gomez was a contract employee of the state’s Department of Employment Development from late July, according to the complaint. As a call center agent, she helped residents process unemployment claims.
According to the complaint, unsealed Thursday, she used this expertise to defraud the system and pay herself, her boyfriend and some of her fellow inmates.
Her boyfriend, who is only identified as “BT” in court records, is serving a 94-year life sentence at California State Prison in Sacramento for murder, prosecutors say. With his help, Gomez is said to have obtained personally identifiable information – such as names, dates of birth and social security numbers – from several other detainees, and allegedly purchased the same type of information from people living outside. the state.
Gomez then submitted unemployment claims related to the pandemic using the information, forcing the state to send charged debit cards to his home and elsewhere, according to the complaint. She deposited some of the money in the prison accounts of her boyfriend and 12 other inmates, the complaint says.
The bogus claimants said they lost their jobs in various industries including modeling / photographer, landscape consultant, hairdresser and janitorial supervisor.
“All claims mistakenly cite COVID-19 as the reason for unemployment,” wrote a US Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, special agent in the complaint. “In fact, these inmates weren’t unemployed because of COVID-19, they were unemployed because they were in prison and couldn’t legally work. “
Investigators obtained surveillance video evidence of Gomez using ATMs to withdraw some funds from fraudulent debit cards, authorities said.
“Pandemic unemployment insurance programs are an essential part of our safety net designed to support hard-working citizens who suffer during this unprecedented time,” US Attorney Robert Brewer said in a statement. “COVID-19-related fraud is of particular concern as it exploits a national crisis for personal gain. “