As part of the ongoing effort to protect Californians from fraud and ensure the integrity of the state unemployment system, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) in partnership with California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), the California Employment Development Department (EDD), and the State’s Districts Attorneys, the US Attorney’s Office have announced additional progress by a state-led task force on investigations and interdiction efforts and has instituted new safeguards to protect Californians from fraud.
Since being established in November by Governor Gavin Newsom, the California Task Force on Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Fraud has led to the arrest of 68 individuals and opened 1,641 additional cases.
“This coordinated and targeted partnership between government and law enforcement has been very successful so far in detecting and disrupting COVID-19 related fraud schemes,” said Mark Ghilarducci, Director of Cal OES and California’s Homeland Security Advisor. “We want to send a clear and unmistakable message to those who would choose to exploit a once in a generation crisis, to steal from vulnerable individuals – do not try it. We will leverage all resources to investigate and prosecute you.”
The Task Force has worked closely with EDD to employ new tools and bolster existing programs to strengthen its fraud detection methods. Updates include EDD’s implementation of ID.me to help validate the identity of individuals filing a new claim for unemployment benefits, use of Thomson Reuter’s fraud criteria to validate other claimant information, and review of existing claims to take action on highly suspect claims.
“At a time when Californians are struggling with economic challenges due to COVID-19, it is disgraceful that so much EDD fraud has occurred,” said Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley. “Even more troubling is the impunity with which inmates in our jails and prisons and their co-conspirators have defrauded the public of funds that should go to those actually in need.”
Representing district attorneys’ offices overwhelmed by both Pandemic Unemployment Insurance (PUI) and Unemployment Insurance (UI) fraud, Sacramento District Attorney Ann Marie Schubert is leading the charge on regional task force efforts working together to return taxpayer dollars.
“The magnitude of EDD fraud in California is astronomical. Recent estimates reveal that over $20 billion of EDD fraudulent claims were paid to criminals. Through the collaboration of law enforcement, district attorneys, federal prosecutors, EDD, CDCR and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, aggressive investigations and prosecutions are occurring throughout California,” said Schubert. “While there is much work to be done, significant progress has been made not only to identify those committing these crimes but also to prevent further EDD fraud.”
The full list of organizations participating in this effort includes: California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, the California District Attorneys Association, United States Attorney’s Office, Federal Bureau of Investigation, United States Postal Inspection Service, US Department of Labor, Internal Revenue Service, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation – Office of the Inspector General, Social Security Administration – Office of the Inspector General, United States Secret Service, United States Marshalls Service, Federal Bureau of Prisons, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the California Employee Development Department.
Additionally, the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California, which covers 34 counties across Northern and Central California, has appointed district-wide coordinators to work closely with federal and state agencies on combatting EDD fraud at the federal level. The US Attorney’s Office is working on multiple investigations and has charged several defendants, including known gang members, who have stolen millions of dollars of EDD UI benefits.
The effort between counties involves the four regional task forces in Southern California, Central California, Northern California, and the Bay Area. These regions are collaborating through this system in coordination with Cal OES to share data, track resources, and bring suspects to justice. In these efforts, 382 search warrants have been served to individuals and businesses, 94 charges have been filed, and 68 individuals have been arrested outside of the prison system.