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8 from Brooklyn charged with multimillion-dollar COVID relief fraud

Social media posts showed defendants fanning wads of 'unemployment' cash

May 19, 2021 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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Eight Brooklyn residents, all in their late teens or early and mid-twenties, have been charged in connection with a scheme to obtain millions of dollars in unemployment insurance benefits funded, in whole or in part, by COVID-19 pandemic assistance programs, according to the U.S Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.

A criminal complaint was unsealed on Tuesday in Brooklyn Federal Court charging Bryan Abraham, Carlos Vazquez, Angel Cabrera, Armani Miller, Johan Santos, Gianni Stewart, Andre Ruddock and Seth Golding with conspiracy to commit access device fraud.

Six of them were arrested on Tuesday morning and made their initial appearance before United States Magistrate Judge Ramon E. Reyes. Miller and Santos remain at large. 

As alleged in the complaint, between June 2020 and April 2021, the defendants submitted fraudulent claims to the New York State Department of Labor for unemployment insurance benefits. They used the personal identifying information of third-party victims to fraudulently receive unemployment insurance benefits funded, in whole or in part, by COVID-19 pandemic assistance programs. 

The defendants’ scheme allegedly resulted in approximately $2 million in unemployment benefits being distributed to the defendants and others. 

Cabrera, Golding, Stewart and Vazquez posted photos of themselves on social media in which they were holding and fanning out large sums of cash, according to the U.S Attorney’s Office. 

Mark J. Lesko, acting United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York; Philip R. Bartlett, inspector in charge, United States Postal Inspection Service, New York Division; Nikitas Splagounias, acting special agent in charge, U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, New York Region; and Roberta Reardon, Commissioner, New York State Department of Labor, announced the arrests and charges. 

“As alleged, the defendants not only fraudulently obtained $2 million in pandemic-related unemployment benefits using information from third-party victims, they audaciously displayed the proceeds of their fraud – large amounts of stolen cash – on social media,” said Acting United States Attorney Lesko. 

“Unfortunately, as the government rolled out various CARES Act programs, fraudsters were ‘At the Ready’ to take full advantage of these programs through a variety of fraud schemes, ripping off the American public of millions in taxpayer dollars, and clogging the system for those who honestly are in need,” said USPIS Inspector-in-Charge Bartlett. 

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress has enacted laws to establish programs and provide additional funding for unemployment insurance benefits for unemployed persons. These include the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), signed into law on March 27, 2020, which created programs for pandemic unemployment assistance and federal pandemic unemployment compensation. 

The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s General Crimes Section. Assistant United States Attorney Tara McGrath is in charge of the prosecution with assistance from Assistant United States Attorney Brendan G. King of the Office’s Asset Forfeiture Section.

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