Federal officials have charged a 40-year-old man for his role in attempting to steal nearly $2 million in COVID-19 unemployment benefits during the pandemic.
Yohauris Rodriguez Hernandez was arrested in Orange County on Wednesday, Jan. 19 in Goshen and now faces a host of federal charges in connection to his role in a COVID-19 unemployment benefit scheme.
It is alleged that Hernandez and a co-conspirator attempted to steal more than $1.9 million from the New York State Department of Labor (NYS DOL) and other states’ agencies tasked with the administration of unemployment benefits.
US Attorney Damian Williams said that between February 2020 and December 2020, Hernandez and his co-conspirator allegedly engaged in a scheme to obtain COVID-19 unemployment benehfits through the fraudulent filing and verification of applications using the names and social security numbers of at least 100 other people.
Law enforcement investigators were first alerted to the scheme when the two fled a Westchester hotel in Yonkers in December 2020, leaving behind their room with more than 500 pieces of NYS DOL mail containing information and NYS DOL-issued debit cards for approximately 76 other people.
Prosecutors noted that the two suspects exchanged text messages, images, and other communications that included the personal identifying information, including names, social security numbers, and dates of birth that were used in connection with the filing and verification of fraudulent applications for unemployment benefits.
In total, the scheme resulted in the two applying for approximately $1.9 million in fraudulent claims and the fraudulent disbursement of more than $500,000 in COVID-19 unemployment benefits.
“(Rodriguez) allegedly took advantage of the urgent need to assist those struggling financially during the coronavirus pandemic; allegedly stealing identities and using those identities to file for unemployment benefits in a scheme to enrich their own lifestyle while others suffered,” USPIS Inspector in Charge Daniel Brubaker said.
Rodriguez was charged with:
- Conspiracy to commit wire fraud;
- Conspiracy to commit theft of government benefits;
- Aggravated identity theft.
“As alleged, the defendant participated in a scheme to fraudulently obtain COVID-19 unemployment benefits under the names and social security numbers of at least 100 other people, which attempted to steal more than $1.9 million and resulted in the fraudulent disbursement of more than $500,000,” Williams said. “(Rodriguez) is now in custody and facing serious federal charges.”
If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison on the top charge, and a mandatory minimum on the aggravated identity theft allegation.
“The Unemployment Insurance Program exists to provide needed assistance to qualified individuals who are unemployed due to no fault of their own,” DOL-OIG Special Agent in Charge Jonathan Mellone said.
“Fraud against the Unemployment Insurance Program distracts state workforce agencies from ensuring benefits go to individuals who are eligible to receive them.”
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