By CBSLA Staff

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — A former employee of the Employment Development Department who already served time for defrauding the agency admitted to filing nearly 200 fraudulent unemployment claims that paid out more than $1.6 million.

Gabriela Llerenas, aka Maria G. Sandoval, 49, of Perris, agreed to plead guilty to a single-count information charging her with mail fraud, Department of Justice officials said Wednesday.

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Llerenas previously worked at the California EDD as a disability insurance program representative, but resigned in 2002 after admitting to fraudulently authorizing and paying disability benefits administered by the EDD, federal prosecutors said. She was subsequently sentenced to 37 months in federal prison in that scheme.

But when Congress passed the CARES Act last year to help people who had lost jobs during the pandemic, Llerenas took advantage, according to federal prosecutors.

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Using names, Social Security numbers, and other identifying information she used in her prior work as a tax preparer, Llerenas allegedly filed nearly 200 fraudulent claims between April and October 2020. Llerenas admitted to falsely stating the claimants lived in California when they actually lived elsewhere and inflating the amounts of income she reported in each claim to maximize the benefit account, according to her plea agreement.

A total of 197 debit cards that resulted in fraudulent claims of at least $1,633,487 were sent to her home, her husband’s business, her mother’s apartment, and the addresses of other friends and family members, federal prosecutors said. In her plea agreement, Llerenas admitted to charging claimants a fee for filling out the applications, claiming she was still employed at the EDD and could control the distribution of benefits, and demanding extra payment for “releasing” the benefits.

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Llerenas is scheduled to make her first court appearance on Sept. 22. The charge Llerenas agreed to plead guilty to carries a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison, according to prosecutors.