Steve DiGioia

A Man’s COVID-19 Fraud has Highlighted a Significant COVID-19 Fraud Case

A NY man was found guilty of conspiring and illegally extorting nearly $444000 from the COVID-19 unemployment benefits.

Jose Tavares, 35, from Bronx, New York, has been accused of conspiracy on Jan 11. His other two accomplices, Yanira Abreu, 42, from New Jersey and Christopher Valerio, 33 also from New Jersey have already pleaded guilty to the conspiracy.

What are the COVID-19 unemployment benefits?

Most of the benefits have expired. Some of the benefits include the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation which provides temporary financial assistance of $600 to workers who lost their jobs due to COVID-19 

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance provided financial assistance to self-employed workers or part-time workers affected during the pandemic.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act helped the unemployed workers who have any illnesses, affected by COVID-19.

The three have been accused of wire fraud as announced by U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger.

The Fraud 

According to the reports, the three had continuously submitted false applications from July 2020 till February 2021, to gain unemployment insurance benefits from the New York Department of Labor.

They created fake online profiles and altered their identity with different names, dates of birth and social security numbers of other individuals without them knowing about it.

The NYDOL processed and approved these applications and the three obtained debit cards and collected up to $444,738 by illegal means. They used the money for personal profit.

The issue highlights the ongoing fraud related to pandemic relief funds. The charges for wire fraud can lead up to 20 years in jail and a fine of up to $250000 varying from the gain or loss of the crime.

The Investigation

The investigation was carried out by special agents from Homeland Security Investigation Newark, the U.S. Department of Labor along with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. The government was represented by U.S. Attorney Fatime Meka Cano.

The U.S. The Department of Justice has taken this step to crack down the pandemic-related frauds as they not only affect the government but the individuals too.

 It has established up to five strike forces to investigate COVID-19 frauds throughout the US. The one that investigated this fraud was the District of New Jersey COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Strike Force.

These forces work upon the large-scale pandemic issues that are organized by criminal groups and are led by prosecutors as well as data analyst teams that bring justice to the victims.

The people are also informed about the hotline number provided by the National Center for Disaster Fraud, to complain about any suspicious activity online or if they encounter such frauds.

The Department of Justice has been continuously fighting against such pandemic relief frauds and the case has served as a reminder for everyone to maintain vigilance and keep on checking their bank accounts for any suspicious transactions.

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