COVID Feature: Already on the Inside

Unemployment claim form on an office table.

Nearly two dozen Pennsylvania inmates have been charged, along with their accomplices on the outside, with conspiring to obtain unemployment benefits intended for those who have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro charged 20 inmates and accomplices across three state prisons for fraudulently conspiring to obtain $300,000 in unemployment benefits. Prisoners would allegedly gather personal information from their fellow inmates, pass the information to their conspirators on the outside, and illegally apply for COVID-19 relief funds. (Inside jobs usually land criminals in prison. These criminals were already on the inside of prison and they allegedly committed more inside jobs from inside multiple prisons. That’s an interesting twist for sure.)

It’s important to note that individuals are only eligible to apply for COVID-19 unemployment assistance if they are unemployed because of the pandemic and they are able to work. Inmates are not eligible to apply for unemployment benefits while they are serving time in prison. (It’s not a complex idea to grasp. If you’re behind bars, you can’t get unemployment benefits.)

This is the latest group of Pennsylvania-based inmates to be charged, as two additional existing rings of prison inmates have already been charged for their roles in similar coronavirus-related fraud cases. The three rings were located at state correctional facilities in Centre County, out of State Correctional Institution Benner, and in Schuylkill County, at State Correctional Institution Mahanoy.

The Benner ring was allegedly spearheaded by inmate James Neff Zonge and his girlfriend, Adele Moore. An additional eight inmates were allegedly involved in that scheme. Moore, a resident of State College, Pa., used Zonge’s personal information to fraudulently apply for unemployment benefits on his behalf. (American taxpayers already pay for his living expenses, what more does he want?)

Zonge received about $3,000 from other inmates for his role in facilitating the filing of their unemployment claims, while Moore received about $7,000 from inmates for filing the applications on their behalf. (Seems like she got the better end of the deal.) In total, the Benner ring obtained $153,470 in fraudulent COVID-19 unemployment payments.

The ring that operated out of State Correctional Institution Mahanoy was allegedly headed by inmate Markal Munford and his girlfriend, Wendy Danfora of York, Pa. (What is with all these girlfriends willing to commit crimes for their partners? Seems like an unstable relationship to me.) Together, they collected the personal information from other inmates and also used it to fraudulently apply for COVID-19 employment benefits.

Danfora received $109,000 in benefits using the names, dates of birth, and social security numbers of Mahanoy inmates. She shared a portion of the benefits with the inmates but kept a majority for herself and her three children. (This is an interesting way of putting your family first.) Danfora and Munford are accused of being directly responsible for at least 13 fraudulent filings totaling $78,994.

The coronavirus pandemic has left many families struggling. (Wherever there is vulnerability, you can bet fraudsters are nearby.) Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro reiterated his commitment to tracking down the ringleaders of coronavirus related schemes and those conspiring with prisoners to defraud the system. (It’s a pretty good guess that these inmates and their partners will be stuck inside prison for quite some time to come.)

If you suspect you are a victim of COVID-19 fraud or believe someone is committing fraud, contact the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or submit a NCDF Web Complaint Form.

Today’s Fraud of the Day comes from an article, “COVID-19 unemployment fraud: PA Attorney General charges 20 inmates, accomplices,” published by ABC News on September 24, 2020.

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania — Pennsylvania officials charged nearly two dozen inmates and outside accomplices who allegedly conspired to obtain some $300,000 in fraudulent COVID-19 unemployment benefits.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro charged 20 inmates and accomplices across three state prisons where inmates allegedly gathered personal information from other inmates and distributed them to people on the outside who applied for fraudulent relief funds in their names, officials said Wednesday.



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Larry Benson, Senior Director of Strategic Alliances, LexisNexis Risk Solutions - Government

Larry Benson is responsible for developing strategic partnerships and solutions for the government vertical. His expertise focuses on how government programs are defrauded by criminal groups, and the approaches necessary to prevent them from succeeding.

Mr. Benson has 30 years of experience in sales and business development. Before joining LexisNexis® Risk Solutions, he spent 12 years founding and managing two software technology startups. During the 1990s he spent 10 years as a Regional Director helping to grow a New England-based technology company from 300 employees to 7,000. He started his career with Martin Marietta Aerospace working on laser guided weapons and day/night vision systems.

A sought-after speaker and accomplished writer, Mr. Benson is the principal author of “Fraud of the Day,” a website dedicated to educating government officials about how criminals are defrauding government programs. He has co-authored WTF? Where’s the Fraud? How to Unmask and Stop Identity Fraud’s Drain on Our Government, and Data Personified, How Fraud is Changing the Meaning of Identity.

Benson holds a Bachelor of Science in Physics from Albright College, and earned two graduate degrees – a Master of Business Administration from Florida Institute of Technology, and a Master of Science in Engineering from Lehigh University.