A Florida man pleaded guilty in federal court in Maryland to obtaining tens of thousands of dollars in fraudulent unemployment funds using information from identity theft victims.
Christopher K. Guy, 30, of Tampa, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud and to aggravated identity theft, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced. He faces a maximum sentence of more than 20 years in prison at his sentencing on May 11.
According to Guy’s plea agreement, he and his conspirators used the personal information of identity theft victims to apply online for unemployment benefits in Oklahoma and other states.
The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission and other state agencies distributed unemployment benefits, including federal benefits intended to supplement regular unemployment payments, using debit cards issued in the names of the identity theft victims, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
The debit cards were mailed to addresses in Maryland and other locations where Guy and other participants in the scheme could access them to make purchases.
Guy was arrested on Aug. 5, 2020, after he used a debit card in the name of an identity theft victim to buy a laptop for more than $2,200 at a store in Elkridge. Howard County police, who responded to a call for a possible fraudulent purchase, stopped Guy in a parking lot and asked about the purchase. Guy at first said he had used a card that had no name on it, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said, and then falsely claimed he must have lost the card he used to make the purchase.
Officers found the card used to buy the laptop in Guy’s pocket when they arrested him, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Searches of Guy’s vehicle and his hotel room in Chevy Chase turned up 18 debit cards and more than $11,000 in cash.
Investigators also searched Guy’s electronic devices and found internet searches related to unemployment benefits, notes detailing the mailing addresses where the fraudulent cards were delivered, and a list of the last four digits of the 18 debit cards with each card’s monetary balance.
Federal investigators found that the debit cards were issued through 16 fraudulent unemployment applications, which netted Guy a total of $176,970, according to prosecutors.
The claims were also associated with 30 IP addresses that “are connected to thousands of other unemployment claims filed with OESC and the state workforce agencies in Maryland, Arizona, Massachusetts, California, Nevada, and many other states, resulting in the disbursement of approximately $11,084,141,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
The prosecution is one of several the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland has brought in response to fraud committed with COVID-19 relief money. Federal watchdogs estimate that tens of billions of dollars in federal pandemic relief money and unemployment payments were made improperly or paid out to fraudsters.
U.S. Attorney Erek Barron has said that he hopes to integrate COVID-19 fraud prosecutions with his office’s focus on violent crime in Maryland.