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5 Virginia residents plead guilty in unemployment fraud case

August 28, 2021 GMT

BRISTOL, Va. (AP) — More southwest Virginia residents who prosecutors say conspired with dozens of others to file fraudulent claims for pandemic unemployment benefits have pleaded guilty.

Patrick Payne, 43, Randall Johnson, 42, Steven Mullins Jr., 33, Curtis Mullins, 25, and Melinda Davis, 58, appeared in U.S. District Court in Abingdon over the last two weeks to enter their pleas, the Bristol Herald Courier reported.

Federal prosecutors say they took part in a scheme that involved submitting claims on behalf of various individuals who were not eligible to receive benefits, including several prisoners at the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail.

“These five individuals used a carefully orchestrated series of lies to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars intended for Virginians struggling during a once-in-a-generation global health pandemic,” acting U.S. Attorney Daniel P. Bubar of the western district of Virginia said in a news release.

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In all, the conspiracy filed fraudulent claims for approximately 37 people, causing at least $499,000 in false claims to be paid, according to the news release. So far, 19 people have pleaded guilty.

The amount paid out in the case represents just a tiny fraction of the over $14 billion in benefits the Virginia Employment Commission said it had distributed as of mid-August.