One of apparently many cases of unemployment benefit fraud being investigated this year involves a Sacramento area woman who used to work for the Employment Development Department, and who apparently cashed in $21,000 in fraudulent claims using the name and social security number of Senator Dianne Feinstein.
Bank of America, which administers the EDD's benefit debit cards, was the one to flag the claims being made in Feinstein's name — not the EDD itself, which has apparently been more than willing to approve claims for any and everyone who applies, including death row inmates, even though thousands of Californians said they were unable to get their benefits processed when the pandemic began.
On Thursday, in addition to charges against several other women, federal prosecutors announced mail fraud charges against 43-year-old Andrea M. Gervais of Roseville, who had apparently been impersonating Feinstein for the purpose of collecting EDD funds. Prosecutors said that Gervais had previously worked for the EDD herself, until being fired two year ago.
"Think about this for a minute: EDD issues a debit card to Senator Dianne Feinstein! How does that happen?” says Republican Assemblymember Jim Patterson, speaking to the Associated Press. "I’ll tell you how, EDD is complicit in the fraud by mailing out Social Security numbers to scammers; or they are utterly incompetent by not even checking eligibility before they issue the debit card. Either way, EDD has aided and abetted the fraud."
Bank of America told the EDD that it has identified at least 345,000 fraudlent claims totaling about $2 billion.
Some are blaming the agency's haste on the pressure that was put on them to clear a backlog of claims that at one point rose to 1.6 million. Last month, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert went public with what she was a widespread rash of fraud targeting the EDD, with suspects filing claims in dozens of counties around the state, some using the names of prison inmates — which apparently the EDD's system can not cross-check for. Among them were well known names including convicted wife-murderer Scott Peterson, Yosemite quadruple-murderer Cary Stayner, and Southern California child-killer Susan Eubanks.
Schubert estimated the fraud to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, but according to Bank of America it could be in the billions.
Federal prosecutors on Thursday also announced charges against 36-year-old Sholanda Thomas, an inmate at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, who's accused of conspiring with former inmate 37-year-old Christina Smith to file fraudulent EDD claims. And the feds are charging former EDD call center worker Nyika Gomez of San Diego, who they say conspired with her inmate boyfriend to file fraudulent claims.
All the suspects could face prison sentences of up to 20 years.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott said, "This theft of taxpayer dollars intended to assist our citizens in a very difficult economic time simply will not be tolerated."
Photo of Gervais via the U.S. Attorney's Office