A Middlesex County man and woman and a New York man were charged on Dec. 10 for their alleged roles in a fraud committed in connection with unemployment insurance benefits.
Christopher Valerio, 31, of Woodbridge; Yanira Abreu, 40, of Keasbey; and Jose Tavares, 34, of New York, New York, are each charged by complaint with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
All three defendants were scheduled to appear by videoconference on Dec. 10before U.S. Magistrate District Judge Michael A. Hammer, according to information provided by Acting U.S. Attorney Rachael A. Honig.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court, on March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) was signed into law. The CARES Act created a new temporary federal unemployment insurance program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which provides unemployment benefits for individuals who are not eligible for other types of unemployment, such as self-employed workers or independent contractors. The CARES Act also created a new temporary federal program called Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance that provided an additional weekly benefit to those eligible for PUA and regular unemployment benefits.
From July 2020 through February 2021, the defendants and others fraudulently applied for unemployment insurance benefits from the New York Department of Labor (NYDOL) by unlawfully utilizing the personal identifying information of at least a dozen victims, including the victims’ names, and Social Security numbers, according to the accusations in the statement.
Fictitious user profiles that the defendants created included mailing addresses that ostensibly belonged to the victims, but in fact were controlled by the defendants and others, according to law enforcement officials.
Once the NYDOL processed and approved the fraudulent applications, a financial institution transferred the benefit funds to debit cards in the names associated with the fictitious user profiles and sent the debit cards to the addresses associated with the defendants. The defendants allegedly withdrew funds using the cards at various ATM locations throughout New Jersey and New York, according to the statement.
The wire fraud conspiracy charge carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross profits or twice the gross loss suffered by the victims of his offense, whichever is greatest.