Tens of thousands of prison and prison inmates, including convicted serial killers and notorious inmates like Scott Peterson, implemented what prosecutors described Tuesday as perhaps the biggest fraud scheme in the world. California History.
The alleged crimes, centered on unemployment benefits in a pandemic, could total up to $ 1 billion, said Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert.
“The fraud is honestly astounding,” she said.
Between March and August, Schubert said, inmates housed in all California prisons and state prisons filed 35,000 claims for a total of $ 140 million in benefits.
Sometimes these benefits were paid directly to inmates inside institutions, she said. In other cases, the money was sent to relatives and friends outside of prisons and prisons.
In Kern County, District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer said investigators were alerted to the scheme in September after the arrival of numerous post orders intended for inmates.
Sometimes the benefits included fake Social Security numbers and names like John Doe, John Adams or, in one case, “poopy suspenders,” Schubert said.
“Frankly, the inmates are laughing at us,” she said.
In other cases, claims have been made with real names. Among them, 133 of the state’s 700 death row inmates, including convicted felons like Cary Stayner, who murdered four people near Yosemite National Park in 1999; Susan Eubanks, who murdered her four sons in 1996; and Peterson, who killed his wife and unborn son in 2002.
Earlier this year, Peterson’s death sentence was overturned after the state’s High Court ruled there had been “significant errors” in jury selection in his trial. Prosecutors said they would seek the death penalty again in the case.
Asked about the number of frauds associated with Peterson’s claim, another prosecutor in Schubert’s office said “we know the number” but declined to provide it citing an ongoing investigation.
Peterson’s attorney, Pat Harris, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday, but told The Associated Press that investigators will find “he had nothing to do with any ploy to obtain fraudulent services ”.
Schubert said claims totaling $ 420,000 had been paid to death row inmates.
She said the fraud could be committed because unlike 35 other states, California does not have a system that “crosses” prison and jail data with unemployment claims.
In a statement, Loree Levy, deputy director of the state’s economic development department, said she “seeks to incorporate these crossover matches in the future as part of increased prevention efforts during this unprecedented period of fraud. unemployed linked to the pandemic across the country. ”
The department declined to comment on the specific claims, citing confidentiality requirements.
In a statement to NBC Los Angeles, California Governor Gavin Newsom called the fraud “absolutely unacceptable” and said he had ordered emergency service officials to form a task force to help resolve the problem.