Parolee Pleads Guilty to Jailhouse COVID-19 Unemployment Benefits Fraud

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FRESNO, Calif. — Christina Smith, 38, who was on parole and had previously been incarcerated at the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) in Chowchilla, pleaded guilty in federal court today to conspiracy and aggravated identity theft charges for the submission of fraudulent unemployment insurance claims to the California Employment Development Department (EDD) in the names of current CCWF inmates, Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.

According to court documents, Sholanda Thomas, 37, a current CCWF inmate, sent her own and several other inmates’ personal identifying information to Smith to submit the unemployment insurance claims in their names. The underlying applications represented that the inmates had been working various jobs, which was untrue because they were incarcerated and therefore ineligible for benefits. The loss to the EDD and the United States is over $250,000. Smith split the proceeds with her co-conspirators.

This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Investigative Services Unit, and the EDD. Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Barton is prosecuting the case.

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Smith is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Dale A. Drozd on Aug. 23. For the conspiracy charge, Smith faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. For the aggravated identity theft charge, she faces a mandatory two-year sentence consecutive to any other sentence and a $250,000 fine. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.

Thomas was indicted on December 17, 2020, along with Smith and is also facing federal prosecution. The charges are only allegations; Thomas is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

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