Orange County Officials Discuss Criminal Consequences of the Pandemic 

March 26, 2021 Updated: March 26, 2021

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to a rise in unemployment fraud and hate crimes, Orange County elected officials say.

Right now, Employment Development Department (EDD) fraud is one of the largest challenges the state is facing, Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer and Sen. Dave Min (D-Irvine) said during a March 26 virtual town hall.

“Unemployment benefits have been the scourge of California,” Min said. “This has actually been a nationwide phenomenon, but California being the biggest state has been the hardest hit. Over $31 billion in fraud has been uncovered.”

Some of the current EDD fraud cases involve Orange County inmates in state prison, Spitzer said.

The prisoners applied for unemployment benefits, claiming they were without work, and had the benefits sent to a friend or family member living in Orange County.

The California District Attorneys Association set up a task force to look into cases of EDD fraud.

In one instance, county authorities raided a fake storefront committing EDD fraud in Little Saigon—between Garden Grove and Westminster— recovering more than $300,000 in cash.

“Two individuals had set up a storefront just to have people come in and fraudulently apply for unemployment benefits, some in the case of $10,000,” Spitzer said.

“We believe there was probably $20 million in fraud just from that one store,” Spitzer said.

Min said this “enormous amount of fraud” has led to freezes on people’s bank accounts, and not receiving unemployment benefits.

“Some of the constituents that read have reached out to us, they’ve actually become homeless as a result of not receiving their EDD benefits,” Min said.

“We just learned earlier this week that 800,000 Californians will see at least a few weeks of delay in the new unemployment benefits that were announced by the federal government.”

Not everyone who commits unemployment fraud is a career criminal, Spitzer said.

“There are individuals who commit fraud because they’re just trying to put food on the table,” he said. “They’re not trying to be law breakers; they just want to help their family.”

Hate Crimes

Min said there has been a “surge” in anti-Asian hate incidents since last year.

“We’ve seen nearly 3,000 anti-Asian hate incidents occurring in California alone last year,” ranging from verbal to physical harassment, he said.

Min attributed the crimes to “rhetoric around the China virus, the Wuhan virus,” when referring to the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.

He said he is “working tirelessly” to create legislation that would “help strengthen the fights” against anti-Asian Pacific Islander (API) hate.

He coauthored a bill that would create a statewide domestic terrorism unit focused on hate crimes.

He coauthored another bill that would strengthen law enforcement training, and data collection for anti-Asian and other hate crimes.

“We as a legislature appropriated $1.4 million for research and data around API hate,” Min said.

Spitzer said: “I have prosecuted more hate crimes in the last two years than the previous 20 years of the Orange County District Attorney’s office.”

“People need to know there’s an enforcement component and there’ll be serious consequences,” he said.

Spitzer said that perpetrators of hate crimes “subscribe to a systemic point of view, and those people need to be isolated.”

The DA said he is planning an event with local police chiefs and the sheriff “to send a very strong message that law enforcement is unified against hate.”

“I haven’t seen a very vigorous, outspoken effort by law enforcement to be on the same page. I need to lead that effort. I do know, I’m telling you unequivocally, all the police chiefs have invested additional resources to stamp out hate in their community.”

“I will not tolerate any kind of abuse against anybody, irrespective of their sexual orientation, or their color,” Spitzer said. “No one should actually live in fear.”