International Fraud Ring

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Why should Americans be the only beneficiaries of COVID-19-related unemployment benefits provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act? That’s a question that two Fort Branch, Ind., women may have asked themselves before agreeing to participate in a well-organized Nigerian fraud ring that exploited the COVID-19 crisis by defrauding state unemployment insurance programs.

Rose Ann Azzarello, 61, and her daughter, Andrea Renee Pytlinski, 40, were both arrested and charged with wire fraud in July 2020. Mom was sentenced to 4 years of supervised release and ordered to pay $27,522 in restitution, while daughter was sentenced to 18 months behind bars, three years of supervised release following her prison time, and must pay $27,522 in restitution.

The mother-daughter duo wanted to get a piece of the CARES pie, which provided temporary benefits for people who ran out of unemployment compensation, who were not eligible for regular unemployment benefits, were self-employed, or had a limited work history. (I mean, who would want to pass up free pie, right?)

Not long after the CARES Act was signed on March 25, 2020, the U.S. Secret Service received tips regarding said well-organized Nigerian fraud ring. In May 2020, Field and Main Bank in Evansville filed a complaint with the Fort Branch Police Department, stating that Washington State Unemployment benefits were being transferred into Indiana bank accounts in the names of Azzarello and Pytlinski. In addition, agents with the U.S. Secret Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Internal Revenue Criminal Investigation also determined that these accounts were funded with the proceeds of a check forgery scheme. (The ruse went on for more than a year.)

After the illicit funds were deposited into their bank accounts, the mother and her daughter would withdraw money and transmit a portion of the funds to a third party, while keeping a cut for themselves. (Their part of the scheme involved more than $95,000, which could buy a lot of pie a la mode and with a few cherries on top, too.)

I have a feeling that we’ll be seeing more COVID-19 fraud cases related to the CARES Act as time goes on. Consider this a big shout out to all the law enforcement agencies who are dedicated to eradicating CARES Act fraud and protecting hard-working Americans who deserved to receive those funds during the pandemic.

If you have any information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19, report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form. 

Today’s Fraud of the Day comes from a Department of Justice press release, “Fort Branch Mother and Daughter Sentenced in COVID-19 Fraud Case,” dated October 28, 2021.

EVANSVILLE – Two Fort Branch, Indiana women have been sentenced in connection with a well-organized Nigerian fraud ring exploiting the COVID-19 crisis to commit large-scale fraud against state unemployment insurance programs.

Andrea Renee Pytlinski, 40, and Rose Ann Azzarello, 61, both of Fort Branch were arrested and charged with wire fraud in July 2020. Azzarello is the mother of Pytlinski. Pytlinski was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment, must serve 3 years of supervised release following her incarceration, and ordered to pay $27,522 in restitution. Azzarello was sentenced to 4 years of supervised release and ordered to pay $27,522 in restitution.

 

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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.