LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — The fallout continues from the massive fraud scheme where prisoners were siphoning off at least $140 million dollars in unemployment benefits.
More victims are coming forward and law enforcement is trying to prioritize how to prosecute so many cases.
Tyler Estabrook is an independent contractor and is among the victims caught up in the massive unemployment fraud scheme, where inmates at jails and prisons across California illegally collected the unemployment, or EDD, payments.
“This assistance now is really integral for me making it through to the other end of all of this,” said Estabrook.
Estabrook is among those horrified to learn up to $1 billion dollars now could be gone.
“You’ve got a huge network of prisoners that are unlawfully just robbing the system of benefits,” he said.
In August, San Mateo County officials charged 21 people with conspiracy that includes a Rancho Cordova woman, Ronnelle Narvaez- accused of working with her brother Rommell Narvarez to apply for the fake benefits…
Michael Bernick is the former director of California’s Employment Development Department. He believes there are three factors contributing to the rampant fraud, and the recent use of prisoners’ identities to game the system.
“The amount of money going through the system over $110 billion paid out in unemployment assistance here in California, and the emphasis earlier this year on paying quickly, and it’s more sophisticated forms of identity theft,” Bernick said.
The District Attorney’s Office says $140 million dollars has been paid out to some inmates and their accomplices, so far.
Now Sacramento County District Attorney, Anne Marie Schubert, will lead a task force to track down that money.
She says it’s impossible to get back every dollar back, but she’s going after what she calls the “heavy hitters.”
“Let’s make sure we’re getting the folks that are taking the money from California in the largest dollar amount,” Schubert said.
But at what cost?
Schubert says the investigation will take a lot of time money and resources from the task force, the FBI, and sheriff’s offices across the state, and ultimately, its the taxpayers who will be footing the bill.
So, they’ll have to prioritize and go after the criminals who took the most money in hopes of stopping this from happening again.