Two Plead Guilty to Unemployment Benefits Fraud Scheme

By City News Service
City News Service
City News Service
October 1, 2021 Updated: October 1, 2021

SAN DIEGO—A man and woman who took part in a scheme to use prison inmates’ personal information to fraudulently obtain unemployment benefits have pleaded guilty to felony charges of making false statements on an unemployment application.

Ryan Kubista and Maereichelle Marquez, both 34, entered their pleas Sept. 30, about six months after the San Diego County District Attorney’s (DA) Office announced charges against them.

Kubista and Marquez are expected to be sentenced next month to state prison terms. Co-defendant Stacy Wright, 62, remains charged, with a preliminary hearing set for next month.

The DA’s Office said after fraudulently applying for the benefits, the trio had the Employment Development Department (EDD) benefits and EDD Bank of America debit cards mailed to their homes or P.O. boxes in Escondido, Carlsbad, and Vista. The defendants received more than $1.3 million in illegal payments for using at least 64 inmates’ identities to apply for the benefits, according to the DA’s Office.

The case is one of numerous others across California related to accusations of prison inmates and others defrauding the state unemployment benefit system amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Locally, the San Diego County DA’s Office announced in January that nine defendants had been charged with conspiracy, grand theft, and making false statements for unemployment benefits in connection with a scheme that allegedly netted those defendants more than $160,000 in unemployment payments.

All nine defendants were inmates assigned to the Male Community Reentry Program, which allows some inmates to serve the finals months of their sentences in a halfway house. The men allegedly lied on EDD application forms and violated state prison rules regarding applying for public aid in order to receive the ill-gotten payments, which were used to buy everything from luxury items to food deliveries from restaurants, according to the DA’s Office.

Federal prosecutors in San Diego also charged former EDD contract employee Nyika Gomez with conspiring with her inmate boyfriend to submit fraudulent pandemic unemployment insurance claims for California state prisoners and out-of-state residents whose identifying information was stolen.

Gomez pleaded guilty earlier this year to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft counts and is set to be sentenced in December.