Jailed crooks told to cough up $600k for COVID fraud

Poetic justice? The virus does love it in some federal prisons

Two Florida residents will spend years behind bars and pay more than half a million dollars for wire fraud and identity theft, among other illicit deeds, for running COVID-19 scams.

US District Judge William Jung on Friday sentenced Randy Xavier Jones, a 34-year-old man of Sarasota, Florida, to five years and one month in federal prison for wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. The court also ordered Jones to pay $475,881 in restitution [PDF] and $15,000 in fines. Jones pleaded guilty on March 24.

According to his indictment [PDF] from August 2021, Jones defrauded several state and federal COVID-19 relief programs between July and September 2020 by claiming monetary benefits he wasn't entitled to receive. This included a $50,000 Economic Injury Disaster Loan and unemployment insurance benefits from state workforce agencies in Arizona, California, and Nevada.

Also on Friday, US District Court Judge Steven Merryday sentenced [PDF] Rolanda Wingfield, a 39-year-old resident of Tampa, Florida to serve two years in federal prison and ordered her to pay $135,576 to the state workforce agencies that she defrauded as part of her pandemic scheme.

According to court documents [PDF] filed in January, Wingfield obtained "15 or more" social security numbers that belonged to other people, and used those to submit false unemployment insurance claims to various states in attempts to fraudulently obtain benefits under federal Coronavirus relief acts.

The unemployment benefits were then transferred to bank accounts or loaded onto debit cards issued with phony names. Wingfield then used, or attempted to use, these fraudulently obtained debit cards to withdraw money using ATMs. 

In April, Wingfield pleaded guilty [PDF] to one count of access device fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.

Both of these court cases were prosecuted under the Department of Justice's COVID Fraud Enforcement Task Force, formed by Attorney General Merrick Garland, in an attempt to coordinate government agencies' work to prosecute criminals perpetrating these schemes and recover, by some estimates, hundreds of billions of dollars lost to pandemic related fraud.

Of course, not every COVID-related scheme involves identity theft, but this type of crime has been a boon to crooks during the ongoing pandemic. In fact, identity theft made the top-five list for the most reported cyberscams, according to the FBI's most recent annual Internet Crime Report.

The report with 2021's statistics recorded 51,629 identity-theft complaints last year, compared to 43,330 in 2020 — that's a 19 percent increase. These crimes cost businesses and individuals more than $278 million in losses last year, according to the bureau. ®

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