Two Turlock residents were included in an 18-count indictment of Californians accused of unemployment benefits fraud and an identity theft scheme, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Russell White III, 35, of Turlock and Brittany Maunakea, 27, of Turlock were among five individuals charged by the Federal Bureau of Investigations of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and 16 counts of mail fraud. The other three defendants are: Pamela Emanuel, 57, of San Jose; Gregory Lee, 55, of Antioch; and Sergio Reyna, 24, of Stockton. Emanuel and Lee are also charged with separate counts of aggravated identity theft.
According to the court documents, the scheme started with Emanuel and her position as a tax compliance representative for the California Employment Development Department. She used her position to access the personal identifying information of workers throughout California and gave that information to other members of the conspiracy who filed fraudulent unemployment claims in the names of the unknowing victims. When Emanuel contacted EDD to pose as a laid-off employee, she used a Virtual Private Network designed to mask her IP address in an attempt to hide her identity. When the defendants filed claims with EDD, they usually provided the name of a fake business as the claimant’s last employer. As a result, the victim’s true employer was not immediately notified that a claim was filed.
The scheme resulted in the conspirators receiving over $800,000 in fraudulent unemployment benefits and over 250 stolen identities.
The alleged fraud occurred between April 13, 2013, and July 14, 2016.
The federal indictment was unsealed Thursday after Emanuel and Reyna were taken into custody.
This case is the product of an investigation by the United States Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the California Employment Development Department – Investigations Division. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jared C. Dolan is prosecuting the case.
If convicted, the defendants face a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count. Emanuel and Lee also face statutory mandatory minimum penalty of two years in prison for aggravated identity theft, which would run consecutive to any other sentence imposed. Any sentence, however, would be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.