Southwest Virginia Man Sentenced for Role in Unemployment Benefits Scam

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FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen at the United States Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C.

ABINGDON, Va. – A Southwest Virginia man, who conspired with more than 30 others in a scheme to defraud the government of more than $499,000 in unemployment benefits, was sentenced this week to 30 months in federal prison.

George Levi Buckles, 32, pleaded guilty in October 2021 to one count of conspiracy to defraud the government, one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, and one count of making false statements.

According to court documents, Buckles conspired with Leelynn Danielle Chytka, Gregory Marcus Tackett, Jeffery Ryan Tackett, and others to commit fraud against the United States in connection with the filing of fraudulent claims for pandemic unemployment benefits.

Over the course of nine months, members of the conspiracy filed fraudulent claims with the Virginia Employment Commission on behalf of at least 37 individuals, with a total actual loss to the United States of at least $499,000.  Chytka, the mastermind behind the scheme, was sentenced to nine years in prison, as were both Tacketts.

U.S. Attorney Christopher R. Kavanaugh of the Western District of Virginia;  Syreeta Scott, Special Agent-in-Charge, Philadelphia Regional Office, U.S. Department of Labor – Office of Inspector General, Special Agent in Charge Darrell J. Waldon of the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation Washington, D.C., Field Office made the announcement.

The Department of Labor – Office of the Inspector General, the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation Washington, D.C., Field Office, the Norton Police Department, and the Russell County Sheriff’s Office investigated the case.

Assistant United States Attorneys Daniel J. Murphy and Michael Baudinet prosecuted the case.

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