Unemployment benefits serve as a safety net for workers who have been laid off and are looking and available for work. During the Coronavirus pandemic, an unprecedented number of people have benefited from unemployment benefits on both federal and state levels. (It’s nice to know there is a “Plan B” in case something goes wrong. And boy, did it ever.)
But, as you know, when governments have money to hand out, there are many unscrupulous individuals who are happy to poke holes in a well-intended back-up plan. Leelynn Danielle Chytka, 28, of Russell County, Va., is today’s poster child for unemployment fraud after trying to steal nearly half a million dollars she did not deserve.
The best laid plans of fraudsters go awry. Such is the case for Chytka, who pleaded guilty to committing mail fraud and aggravated identity theft. (That’s what happens when you steal benefits authorized and paid in connection with a major disaster or emergency.) She also pleaded guilty to one count of distribution of suboxone, which is used to treat opiate addiction. (Sounds like she was trying to diversify her fraud scheme.)
Chytka did not work alone. She directed co-conspirators to file multiple bogus unemployment claims for the purpose of defrauding the Virginia Employment Commission. They used the identities of individuals, many of whom were behind bars and not entitled to receive unemployment benefits in the first place. (Obviously, prisoners don’t qualify for unemployment benefits because they didn’t lose their job through no fault of their own. They lost their job because they did something illegal if they had a job in the first place.)
Within nine months, Chytka filed bogus pandemic-related unemployment claims using the personal identification information for at least 37 victims, 15 of whom were inmates within the Virginia Department of Corrections. (Some of these victims were actually her co-conspirators. Can you say “double-crosser”?) As a result of their illegal actions, Chytka collected $499,000 in fraudulent benefits, which should have been directed to unemployed Virginians who qualified for the income.
While many Virginians struggled to make ends meet during the pandemic, Chytka thought she could siphon off some unemployment benefits for herself, but it looks like the justice system has poked a hole in her “Plan A,” which was to steal unemployment benefits, which was “Plan B” for people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. (My guess is that “Plan J” or jailtime is about to unfold.)
Today’s Fraud of the Day comes from a Department of Justice press release, “Russell Co. Woman Pleads Guilty to $499,000 Unemployment Fraud Scheme,” dated March 18, 2021.
ABINGDON, Va. – Leelynn Danielle Chytka pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Abingdon, Va., to charges that she conspired with others to defraud the government of more than $499,000, commit mail fraud, and commit aggravated identify theft, Acting United States Attorney Daniel P. Bubar and Acting Special Agent-in-Charge, Philadelphia Region, U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General announced today.
Chytka, 28, of Russell County, Virginia, waived her right to be indicted and pleaded guilty today to a four-count Information charging her with one count of conspiracy to defraud the government, one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud with respect to benefits authorized and paid in connection with a presidentially declared major disaster or emergency, one count of aggravated identity theft, and one count of distribution of suboxone.