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2 Seattleites charged with stealing $1M in jobless benefits

November 12, 2021 GMT

SEATTLE (AP) — Two Seattle residents are charged with allegedly stealing over $1 million in jobless benefits and small business loans during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Seattle Times reports Bryan Sparks and Autumn Luna were charged Wednesday with stealing at least $500,000 in jobless benefits from the state Employment Security Department and $520,000 in Small Business Administration loans, according to a 16-count indictment filed in U.S. District Court.

The jobless benefits charge appears to be the largest in dollar terms so far stemming from Washington state paying out over $647 million in pandemic-related fraudulent claims. Some $370 million has been recovered, state officials have said.

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The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle said Luna and Sparks were arrested June 22 in Washington, D.C.

From March 2020 through at least January 2021, prosecutors allege the pair used stolen Social Security numbers and other personal information to file fraudulent jobless claims and apply for federal Economic Injury Disaster Loans.

Sparks and Luna used more than a dozen cellphones and addresses in Seattle, Des Moines, Federal Way, Auburn, and Lynnwood, among other places, in the fraud, prosecutors said.

Sparks and Luna had proceeds mailed to those addresses or deposited in bank accounts opened using stolen personal information, prosecutors say. Other individuals also may have been involved, according to the indictment.

Sparks and Luna are charged with conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft. It wasn’t clear whether Sparks and Luna had an attorney to speak on their behalf.

Other people charged in connection to the state fraud include former state Employment Security Department employee Reyes De La Cruz III, who is accused of stealing at least $360,000 in jobless benefits.

Federal investigators charged Abidemi Rufai, of Lekki, Nigeria, with stealing more than $350,000 in benefits. A lawyer for Rufai has said he denies any involvement.

Federal prosecutors have also charged Chukwuemeka Onyegbula, a Nigerian IT engineer, with stealing roughly $290,000 in benefits from Washington and from other states.

Attempts to locate an attorney for De La Cruz and Onyegbula haven’t been successful.