BATON ROUGE, La. (KTAL/KLFY) – Five people in Louisiana are charged with stealing from the state’s unemployment trust fund by filing false claims during the pandemic, including a Bossier City man.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said Wednesday they’ve discovered more than $300,000 paid out in fake pandemic unemployment claims and announced a crackdown on the crime.
“Every dollar stolen from that account deprives someone who needs that money in order to make ends meet,” Landry said in a news conference Wednesday.
Ernest Green with the Louisiana Bureau of Investigation said they started seeing an increase in unemployment insurance fraud complaints in March, shortly after the pandemic began and the shutdown was implemented.
According to the AG’s office, the cases resulting in the five arrests as of Thursday morning account for about half of the $300,000 in unemployment benefits scammed from the state discovered so far.
Landry says the scammers either filed false claims based on stolen identities, filed false claims while still working, or hacked into legitimate unemployment accounts to redirect funds. He says they even used multiple bank accounts and pre-paid debit cards to retrieve and conceal the money trail.
The following is a list of those arrested provided by the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office:
Kayla Giles, 33 of Alexandria, and Teri Thibodeaux, 33 of Forest Hill, were arrested and charged with Felony Identity Theft, Felony Money Laundering, Government Benefits Fraud, and Criminal Conspiracy. The pair is accused of using approximately 25 stolen identities to file fraudulent COVID-19 related unemployment claims – valued at approximately $300,000 – in multiple states. In addition to the identity theft scheme, the two allegedly made fraudulent claims in their own names in multiple states – with Giles receiving approximately $13,000 and Thibodaux receiving $37,000.
Demarcus Evans, 30 of Bossier City, was arrested Monday and charged with Felony Identity Theft and Government Benefits Fraud. He is accused of using a female acquaintance’s personal information to file fraudulent COVID-19 related unemployment claims. Evans allegedly defrauded the State of Louisiana of approximately $8,600.
Christina French, 41 of Florida, is a fugitive of Louisiana for an arrest warranted issued Thursday pertaining to Felony Money Laundering, Government Benefits Fraud, and Computer Fraud. She is accused of hacking the Louisiana Workforce Commission’s online account of a Shreveport resident. French allegedly redirected the victim’s benefits to an out-of-state bank account that she controlled and that French transferred approximately $6,000 into that fraudulent account.
Amanda Garner, 33 of Covington, was arrested and charged with Government Benefits Fraud. She is accused of filing fraudulent COVID-19 related unemployment claim and weekly certifications. Garner allegedly obtained approximately $5,200 in unemployment benefits fraudulently as she did not qualify for unemployment because she remained employed during the COVID-19 shutdown and was not financially impacted.
Landry accused Governor Edwards’ administration of failing to implement checks and balances because of the rush to get unemployment payments to the people, but, he added, “While others may have been asleep at the wheel, we are not. We are here, we will find you, and we will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law possible.”
The pandemic has placed an unprecedented strain on the state’s unemployment system. The state’s unemployment fund was once healthy at $1 billion, now only has $50 million.
More arrests are expected as authorities continue to find people filing false claims. If you know anyone who is scamming the state’s unemployment trust fund, you are urged to call 1-866-720-5721.