The employees were charged federally with fraudulently obtaining emergency unemployment benefits related to COVID-19, resulting in each facing one count of mail or wire fraud and one count of theft of government funds, U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams said in a statement on Nov. 23.
Charged are Shannon Reynolds, 25, of Philadelphia; Najah Harrell, 32, of Philadelphia; Korey Kinard, 29, of Philadelphia; Keely Maude, 23, of Philadelphia; Tashika White, 50, of Cheltenham, Pennsylvania; Paulette Johnson, 55, of Philadelphia; Monica Pelzer, 45, of Philadelphia; and Yarelis Feliciano, age 28, of Philadelphia.
Johnson is a clerk; the others are police radio dispatchers.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law in March 2020. The measure created the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provides unemployment benefits to those not eligible for regular unemployment compensation or extended unemployment benefits, including individuals, families, and businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
To be eligible for weekly benefits, applicants’ unemployment must be related to the pandemic, and the applicant must be willing and able to work each day and, if offered a job, be able to accept it.
Once an applicant is approved to receive benefits, they must submit weekly certifications indicating they are seeking full-time employment; can’t refuse any job offers or referrals; and report any employment during the week and the gross pay or other payments received.
Each of the individuals is alleged to have submitted weekly certifications saying they weren’t employed and they either weren’t earning any wages or they grossly unreported true wages. These statements were false because each defendant was employed at the time by Philadelphia Police Department, according to payroll records. CARES Act unemployment funds were paid out for multiple weeks in which the individuals also collected his or her police department salary.
“Pandemic Unemployment Assistance funds are intended to help Americans who are not working or who have experienced dramatically reduced working hours due to the pandemic, not people who are already gainfully employed,” Williams said in the statement. “Thieves who attempt to take these funds are taking advantage of others’ misfortune—ripping them off while also ripping off all taxpayers who fund the program.
“As alleged, these eight defendants fraudulently obtained funds that could have helped struggling individuals.”
Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report them by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form.