Feds charge 15 with combined $578K in unemployment fraud

PROVIDENCE – Federal prosecutors announced charges against 15 individuals Thursday related to alleged fraudulent unemployment claims filed in Rhode Island and other states.

The defendants were alleged to have filed claims for a total value of $578,571, including $126,000 in claims in Rhode Island, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Rhode Island, the Office of the R.I. Attorney General, the FBI, and the R.I. State Police announced jointly Thursday. The 15 individuals were charged with wire fraud and money laundering, and were alleged to have filed multiple claims for unemployment in Rhode Island and other states.

“It’s disgraceful that anyone would attempt to fraudulently obtain CARES Act funds intended for hardworking Americans during the current health crisis, and we are committed to vigorously pursuing the criminals who commit this fraud,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Richard B. Myrus in a statement. “Our team of agents and prosecutors has the reach, coordination and expertise necessary for effective enforcement efforts against the scourge of COVID-19 relief fraud, and our investigations are far from over.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Rhode Island said to date it has brought charges against 23 individuals for fraudulently applying for aid from Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funded programs. Collectively, those 23 individuals were said to have targeted roughly $31 million in federal funds. The USAO said that the IP addresses used by one of the defendants were used to file 5,291 in claims in 37 states, including Rhode Island, for a total of $25 million.

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“What these individuals are accused of doing is selfish and despicable. They cashed in on a public health crisis by targeting nearly $31 million in federal funds that were meant to be a lifeline for tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders and other Americans who are struggling to feed their families and keep their businesses afloat. It is critical that every dollar spent goes to those who need it, not to greedy con artists trying to cheat the system,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston Division, in a statement. “Those who blatantly steal taxpayer dollars by defrauding government programs during a national emergency will soon find themselves in federal court to answer for their crimes.”

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