ALBANY, NEW YORK – Two New York State prison inmates and two others were indicted last week for conspiring to defraud COVID-19 pandemic-related unemployment insurance programs administered by the New York State Department of Labor (NYSDOL).
The announcement was made by Acting United States Attorney Antoinette T. Bacon; Nikitas Splagounias, Acting Special Agent in Charge, New York Region, U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General (USDOL-OIG); Kevin Kelly, Special Agent in Charge of the Buffalo Field Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); Joshua McCallister, Acting Inspector in Charge of the Boston Division of the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS); Anthony J. Annucci, Acting Commissioner of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (NYSDOCCS); and Roberta Reardon, Commissioner of NYSDOL.
In one indictment, Reginald Thornton, age 28, an inmate at the Bare Hill Correctional Facility in Malone, New York, and Briana Garland, age 28, of Uniondale, New York, were charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and aggravated identity theft.
In a second indictment, Thornton and Rhasha Wright, age 29, of Roosevelt, New York, were charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and aggravated identity theft. Another Bare Hill inmate, Lord Paulin, age 40, was also charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud in the second indictment.
The indictments, returned on August 5, 2021, allege conspiracies to submit fraudulent unemployment insurance claims in the names of Bare Hill inmates. Specifically, Thornton provided his own means of identification to Garland, and the means of identification of Paulin and another inmate to Wright, in order for the non-inmates to submit claims. NYSDOL paid over $30,000 as a result of the scheme. The charges in the indictments are merely accusations. The defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Garland and Wright were arraigned today in Albany before United States Magistrate Judge Daniel J. Stewart, and were released with conditions. Thornton and Paulin will be arraigned on August 19.
The charges for conspiracy to commit mail fraud carry a maximum term of 20 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, and a term of supervised release of up to 3 years. The charges for aggravated identity theft carry a mandatory term of 2 years in prison, to be imposed consecutive to any other term of imprisonment. A defendant’s sentence is imposed by a judge based on the particular statute the defendant is charged with violating, the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other factors.
These cases are being investigated by USDOL-OIG, HSI, USPIS, and the Offices of Special Investigations of NYSDOCCS and NYSDOL. The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys John T. Chisholm and Joshua R. Rosenthal.
On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to marshal the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with agencies across government to enhance efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud. The Task Force bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud by, among other methods, augmenting and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their schemes, and sharing and harnessing information and insights gained from prior enforcement efforts. For more information on the Department’s response to the pandemic, please visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus
Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.
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