DOJ: Man submitted claims for pandemic unemployment benefits under names of La. inmates

Unemployment fraud
Unemployment fraud(MGN)
Published: Sep. 15, 2023 at 9:08 AM CDT|Updated: Sep. 15, 2023 at 9:14 AM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A Livingston Parish man has been sentenced to 4 years in federal prison following his conviction for wire fraud in connection to a fraudulent scheme to get pandemic unemployment benefits.

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Chaz Ryan Watkins, 35, of Springfield, La. was convicted for using the personal information of Louisiana inmates and others to claim the funds.

The court also sentenced Watkins to serve two years of supervised release following his prison term and ordered him to pay restitution in the amount of $178,620.00 to victims, including the Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC), Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA).

According to admissions made as part of his guilty plea, between December 2019, and continuing through at least September 2021, Watkins obtained the personal identifying information of inmates incarcerated in Louisiana prisons and of other individuals, including names, birth dates, and Social Security numbers.

Officials said Watkins submitted claims for pandemic unemployment assistance benefits to the Louisiana Workforce Commission in the names of the inmates, who were ineligible for such benefits, and in the names of other individuals, often without the individual’s knowledge or consent.

In these applications, Watkins requested that the benefits be sent via direct deposit to his financial accounts or via pre-paid debit cards mailed to addresses under his control, according to the DOJ.

Once the funds were received, Watkins withdrew the funds as cash from ATMs at various financial institutions in the Middle District of Louisiana.

He received over $95,000 in fraudulent unemployment benefits, the DOJ confirmed.

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