COVID Feature: Home Sweet Home

Post-it with credit card PIN number in wallet on laptop. Unsafe way to keep PIN number

The unemployment rate in April 2020 rose to a record high of 14.7 percent, just a few months after the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this is the highest rate and largest monthly increase in the history of data, at least back to January 1948. There’s no doubt that the unemployment rate increased due to legitimate unemployment claims, but there were also a few fraudsters that skewed these numbers. One example is a San Dimas, Calif., man who illegally pocketed $500,000 in COVID-19-related unemployment benefits from the California Employment Development Department (EDD).

Bonifacio Jastilana Marinas, 50, used the names of foreign nationals who were not entitled to receive unemployment benefits to file approximately 85 unemployment insurance claims with the EDD. The claims erroneously stated that the unemployment insurance applicants were self-employed real estate agents in Los Angeles whose jobs had been impacted by the pandemic. (Initially, that sounds like a legitimate claim. There’s nothing like a global pandemic to slow down home sales.)

Marinas listed his own real estate business, Vintage Realty & Finance Inc., in West Covina as the applicants’ workplace. (Ironically, the company’s website lists that they employ 12 superb agents. That’s a far cry from 85 fake real estate agents that claimed they were unemployed.)

Furthermore, the mailing addresses used on the unemployment applications went to Marinas’ home address. The claimants actually resided either in Saipan or the Philippines. (Everyone is working from home these days, but those are really remote locations for real estate agents, particularly if they had to show homes in person prior to the pandemic.) The EDD debit cards were mailed directly to Marinas, who then withdrew $516,244 in fraudulently obtained benefits. (Basically, the price of a very small home in West Covina.)

The Californian pleaded guilty to mail fraud for his involvement in the COVID-19-related unemployment fraud scheme. When sentenced in June, Marinas faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison. (His new “Home Sweet Home” is about to become a 6 ft. x 8 ft. cell block. Not exactly the hottest home on the market these days.)

Today’s Fraud of the Day comes from an article, “San Dimas Man Pleads Guilty to Fraudulently Obtaining Over $500K in Unemployment Benefits”, published by the Baltimore Sun, on February 11, 2021.

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — A San Dimas man pleaded guilty Thursday to a federal criminal charge that he fraudulently obtained more than $500,000 in COVID-19-related unemployment benefits from the California Employment Development Department.

Bonifacio Jastilana Marinas, 50, pleaded guilty to a single-count criminal information charging him with mail fraud, the U.S. Department of Justice said.



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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.