A Malden, Mass., man thought that the U.S. Government’s offer of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) meant he could apply for and receive unemployment-related benefits and use them to go on a shopping spree. (He clearly did not read the fine print on the application and that legal mumbo jumbo caught up to him in the end.)
Wagner Sozi, 33, was sentenced to 39 months in prison and two years of supervised release for submitting fraudulent PUA applications. He was found guilty of wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and making a false claim. (That should put a stop to other fraudsters who think that pandemic-related benefits are a free-for-all for anyone and everyone who wants to have a good time on the government’s dime.)
Sozi was a fraudster-of-all trades, so to speak. He used stolen identity information to open accounts, make a variety of purchases, rent cars and apply for PUA benefits. (In other words, he was intent on living the high life at the expense of his victims.)
Today’s fraudster obtained the stolen identity information from a variety of sources, including a Cambridge realty company. (Sozi got his hands on the personal identifying information of people who were looking to rent apartments locally. His roommate happened to work for the realty company.) Investigators found files connected to the company in the apartment where he lived. One of the identities discovered in the dwelling was used to file a fraudulent PUA claim.
Sozi and a female accomplice used the stolen information of more than 60 victims to open store credit accounts at Staples locations in Massachusetts. They used fake identities to establish the accounts, then purchased more than $80,000 in Visa gift cards. Store manager, Ricardo Voltaire, 35, processed these accounts in exchange for $8,000 in kickbacks.
But that’s not all folks. Sozi was super greedy and used the stolen information to also purchase a $15,000 Rolex watch, withdraw $5,000 cash, and rent a Dodge Charger and a Ford Mustang. (It’s important to note that he did not return either vehicle. What a brazen thing to do.)
Sozi’s escapades eventually caught up with him. In addition to his prison sentence, he must pay forfeiture and $110,000 in restitution. Voltaire, the store manager who processed the fake Staples accounts, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and will be sentenced in February.
It’s a certainty that we will be reading about pandemic-related fraud cases for many months and even years to come. If you happen to know of anyone with 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, “Malden Man Sentenced for COVID-Relief Fraud and Identity Theft,” dated December 8, 2021.
BOSTON – A Malden man was sentenced today in connection with submitting fraudulent applications for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). The federal PUA program provides unemployment-related benefits to individuals who have been impacted by COVID-19.
Wagner Sozi, 33, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge George A. O’Toole Jr.to 39 months in prison and two years of supervised release. Sozi was also ordered to pay forfeiture and restitution in the approximate amount of $110,000. On May 13, 2021, Sozi pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud, one count of aggravated identity theft and one count of making a false claim.