California inmate charged with unemployment benefits fraud


By Associated Press

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — A California prisoner is one of two people accused of stealing more than $100,000 in unemployment benefits in the latest allegation related to what authorities say is a multibillion-dollar fraud aided by lax safeguards at a state agency.

Alana Powers, 45, an inmate at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, was indicted by a federal grand jury last week, along with 51-year-old Jason Vertz of Fresno, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

The indictment was unsealed, and Vertz was arraigned on Tuesday after his arrest, prosecutors said. They said neither has yet listed a defense attorney.

Officials say the state has paid at least $11 billion in benefits to people whose identities it has been unable to verify, which they say is likely fraud. Of that, $810 million was tied to ineligible prisoners.

The pair is charged with submitting several fraudulent unemployment insurance claims to the state Employment Development Department through a program intended to help people hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic and economic shutdowns.

They applied in the name of Powers and other inmates at the women’s prison. Recorded prison telephone calls and emails show she and other inmates gave Vertz names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of inmates that he used to submit the fake claims, prosecutors said.

The applications said that the inmates had worked as maids, cleaners, welders and at other jobs and that they were available to work, “which was not true because they were incarcerated,” prosecutors said.

The claims cost the state Employment Development Department and U.S. government more than $103,000, prosecutors said.

The benefits were loaded onto debit cards that the state agency mailed to the addresses the pair had provided.

Each faces one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft, charges that carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison.

The state employment and corrections departments helped the FBI in the investigation, prosecutors said.

Two scathing state audits earlier this year documented the employment agency’s multiple mistakes that allowed the fraud even as it remains slow to respond to the massive number of claims during the pandemic.

Find your latest news here at the Hemet & San Jacinto Chronicle


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Share post:

Subscribe to The Hemet & San Jacinto Chronicle


More like this

New construction, falling population could combine to end California’s housing crisis

This month Californians worried about the cost of housing were offered the rarest of gifts: a glimmer of hope. New numbers released by the Newsom administration show that California added homes to its housing stock at a faster clip than any time since the Great Recession — 123,350 additional units, or an increase of 0.85%.

White House vows more federal aid to reduce homelessness in 5 cities and California

Five major U.S. cities and the state of California will receive federal help to get unsheltered residents into permanent housing under a new plan launched Thursday as part of the Biden administration’s larger goal to reduce homelessness 25% by 2025.

California orders Los Angeles County to close ‘unsuitable’ youth prisons within 60 days

Los Angeles County has two months to move about 300 young people out of its troubled juvenile halls after California regulators on Tuesday determined the facilities are “unsuitable for the confinement of youth.”

Unfounded Attempt Kidnapping

On May 23, 2023, a Southwest Station School Resource Deputy began an investigation into a possible kidnapping that occurred in the 38000 block of Camarada Lane, in unincorporated Murrieta, after he received information that a video of the incident was posted to social media.