From Sea to Shining Sea

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Fraud occurs just about everywhere in the U.S., from sea to shining sea. In today’s case, we take a look at a COVID-19 and identity theft fraud scheme that began on the West Coast in Seattle, Wash., but ended June 2021 on the East Coast in Washington, D.C. Bryan Alan Sparks, 40, and Autumn Gail Luna, 22 are charged with defrauding the Washington State Employment Security Division (ESD) and the Small Business Administration (SBA) of more than $1 million dollars. Fun fact: they were arrested at Union Station in Washington, D.C. with cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine on their person. (If I were a betting man, I’d say this duo is in a heap of trouble.)

According to the indictment, the two used the stolen personal information of more than 50 Washington residents to apply for unemployment benefits. The scam purportedly started around March 2020, just as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act went into effect. (They certainly didn’t waste any time getting a jump on stealing free money when the pandemic arrived on American soil.)

Sparks and Luna were initially successful in their attempts to collect COVID-19 related benefits. Approximately $500,000 came from Washington’s unemployment agency, while around $520,000 came from SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program.

The pair directed the benefits to be loaded onto debit cards, which were mailed to multiple Seattle addresses where they or co-conspirators collected them. The two allegedly opened multiple bank accounts and deposited the benefits into those fraudulent accounts.

I wish that were all they are accused of doing, but it’s not. Sparks and Luna also used the stolen identification information to create and obtain fake driver’s licenses from the Washington State Department of Licensing.

To keep up with the details of the multifaceted fraud scheme, the pair monitored more than 12 phones, each labeled with the phone number and names of stolen identities. They also kept detailed ledgers and electronic files containing the stolen personal information, credit card numbers and financial transactions that linked to each stolen identity. (They were definitely detail oriented, until they weren’t.)

The article doesn’t state why the couple travelled from the Seattle area to Washington, D.C., but it’s more than interesting that they arrived in the nation’s capital sporting a menagerie of illegal drugs. Were the drugs for personal use or for sales? (What were they thinking?)

Sparks and Luna are charged with conspiracy, 5 counts of mail fraud, 6 counts of wire fraud and 4 counts of aggravated identity theft. If found guilty, they will receive 5 years in prison for conspiracy and up to 30 years in prison for wire fraud and mail fraud related to a presidentially declared major disaster or emergency. On top of that, they could be punished for aggravated identity theft by being required to serve a mandatory minimum two years in prison to run consecutive to any other sentence imposed in the case. (Suffice to say, they could be behind bars for some time to come, if found guilty.)

Today’s Fraud of the Day comes from an article, “Washington Pair Charged With Stealing $1 Million in Jobless Benefits, Small Business Loans,” published by The Chronicle on November 12, 2021.

Two Seattle residents have been charged with stealing more than $1 million in jobless benefits and federal small business loans during the pandemic.

Bryan Alan Sparks, 40, and Autumn Gail Luna, 22, were charged Wednesday with stealing at least $500,000 in jobless benefits from the state Employment Security Department (ESD) and $520,000 Small Business Administration loans, according to a 16-count indictment filed in U.S. District Court.

 

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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.