There are a few ways to make money and not work. You could try out your luck in Las Vegas or play the lottery (although it is unlikely that you will win big), be independently wealthy, or collect unemployment. That’s what Daniel Maleus, 33, of Stoneham, Mass., did. Except, he stole $250,000 in unemployment benefits that were destined for those unlucky individuals who lost their jobs during the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) in March 2020 to create a temporary federal unemployment insurance program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). It was a huge relief for the many millions of people who were not qualified to receive regular unemployment benefits.
Like most fraudsters, Maleus saw the pandemic as a great opportunity to steal government benefits from Massachusetts’ Department of Unemployment Assistance and individuals who truly deserved the financial support during a difficult time. (He wanted to get rich by doing the least amount of work as possible.)
Maleus and his co-conspirators filed fraudulent PUA claims using stolen personal information of others as well as email accounts that he and his co-conspirators had created for their victims. Their illegal acts initially paid off, netting $250,000 in payments for the fraudulent claims submitted over one year. (While Maleus was living large, his victims were struggling to get by.)
The Stoneham man pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, five counts of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft related to the fraudulent scheme that used stolen identities to cash in on COVID-19 related unemployment assistance. When sentenced in February 2022, Maleus could receive a lot of time behind bars.
For each charge of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, Maleus could get up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss, whichever is greater. He could also be sentenced to two years in prison to be served consecutively to any other sentence imposed for the charge of aggravated identity theft. (Is it just me or does that punishment seem a little light for all the anguish victims experience when their identity is stolen?)
Unfortunately, as time goes on, we’re going to be hearing more about pandemic-related unemployment fraud as more cases appear in court across the nation. 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, “Stoneham Man Pleads Guilty to Identity Theft and Fraud Related to COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance,” dated November 2, 2021.
BOSTON – A Stoneham man pleaded guilty today to his involvement in a fraudulent scheme to obtain COVID-19-related unemployment assistance using stolen personal information.
Daniel Maleus, 33, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, five counts of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. U.S. Senior District Court Judge Rya W. Zobel scheduled sentencing for Feb. 15, 2022. Maleus was indicted on July 22, 2021.