LOS ANGELES - Three Inland Empire women were arrested and charged this week for illegally obtaining COVID-related unemployment benefits in names of prison inmates and scamming the California Employment Development Department out of a combined $1.2 million, federal prosecutors allege.
Sequoia Edwards, 35, of Moreno Valley, Mireya Ramos, 42, of Colton, and Paris Thomas, 33, of San Bernardino, are charged in separate criminal complaints, and each woman faces two counts – fraud in connection with emergency benefits and wire fraud.
According to the Department of Justice, Edwards filed at least 27 fraudulent claims over the course of two months last summer, of which, six used information of California prison inmates she allegedly got from her incarcerated cousin. As a result, the EDD paid $455,000 intended to help those who were out of work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which did not apply to prison inmates. During the execution of a search warrant at Edwards’ residence in February, the FBI recovered several debit cards issued by the EDD and $45,000 in cash, according to the affidavit in support of her criminal complaint.
Edwards is expected to make her initial appearance Friday afternoon in United States District Court in Riverside.
Ramos allegedly filed 37 fraudulent claims, according to the DOJ, most of which were in the names of inmates and many of which falsely said they were "barbers who could not work due to the pandemic." The affidavit in support of Ramos' criminal complaint says she obtained the inmates’ information from her long-time boyfriend who is currently serving a life sentence in prison. As a result, the EDD issued at least $353,532 in unemployment benefits.
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During a court appearance Thursday afternoon, Ramos was released on a $10,000 bond, and an arraignment was scheduled for May 4.
Thomas was arrested for allegedly filing around 49 fraudulent applications, at least 15 of which were in the names of inmates, resulting in the EDD paying out over $440,000. During a search of Thomas’s residence in February, the FBI seized EDD cards and a notebook filled with personally identifiable information for more than 40 people, the affidavit notes.
When she appeared in court on Wednesday, a United States magistrate judge released Thomas on a $10,000 bond and ordered her to appear for an arraignment on May 11.
The charge of fraud in connection with emergency benefits carries a statutory maximum sentence of 30 years in federal prison, and wire fraud carries a maximum possible penalty of 20 years in prison.