Nov. 25 (UPI) — Inmates in California received $1 billion in pandemic unemployment aid through fraudulent claims, a group of district attorneys and federal prosecutors announced Tuesday.
During a Tuesday news conference, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said that a multi-agency investigation discovered 35,000 unemployment claims filed in the name of California state prison inmates between March and August, describing the scheme as “the biggest fraud of taxpayer dollars in California history.”
“It’s not just about the money that’s been stolen. It’s about the fact that we need to turn off the spigot, which means that we should not continue to pay these convicted felons who are in prison,” Schubert said. “We have asked and implored the governor to get involved himself to turn the spigot off.”
The investigation found fraudulent claims filed under the names and Social Security numbers at jails as well as state and federal prisons.
Inmates who received the aid included serial killers Cary Stayner and Wayne Ford, and Scott Peterson, who was convicted of murdering his wife in 2004.
A total of $140 million was sent to 133 death row inmates between March and August including a claim as large as $48,600.
El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson noted that the funds were distributed outside of the state and even outside of the country.
“The practical reality is the vast majority of this money will never be repaid,” Pierson said.
Members of the task force said most of the payments were sent in the form of prepaid debit cards delivered to addresses designated on the applications and the funds were later deposited into inmates’ accounts, while other benefits were sent directly to institutions.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statement Tuesday thanking the district attorneys “for their commitment to resolving this issue,” adding the state must do more to combat fraud.
“Unemployment fraud across local jails and state and federal prisons is absolutely unacceptable,” he said.
Newsom added that he also directed his Office of Emergency Services to establish a task force to support the investigations.
“When we saw evidence of fraud in correctional facilities I directed the Employment Development Department to review its practices and to take immediate actions to prevent fraud and to hold people accountable when fraud is not prevented,” Newsom said.