Domino Effect

Unemployment insurance form on a table.

You have to wonder about what might happen if fraudsters actually put in as much effort into working a legitimate job as they do a scam. The global effect might be shocking. Economic productivity would rise. Time lost by victims, offenders, their families, plus juries, judges, and lawyers would decrease. Less tax dollars would be spent on paying for incarcerated individuals. Society would benefit from less crime and better health outcomes would be likely. Blood pressure readings would go down and mental health would improve because anxiety would decrease. (See where I’m going here? Sort of like a domino effect.)

Mitchacole Johnson, 45 of Shelby Township, Mich., and Larry Witherspoon, 46, of Harper Woods, Mich., no doubt worked hard to fill out and submit at least 66 claims for fraudulent unemployment insurance benefits across at least four states, including their home state. (They were diligent paper pushers and their attention to detail had to be good to rack in more than $1.3 million across multiple unemployment agencies. Too bad they couldn’t apply that effort to a real job.)

Both defendants attempted to claim nearly $3.5 million in unemployment benefits for which they did not qualify. Johnson filed multiple claims in her own name. Witherspoon filed multiple claims in the names of people similar to his own name, such as “Lawrence Witherspoon”. The two fraudsters also filed claims using others’ personally identifiable information such as Social Security Numbers. Then, they directed the unemployment benefits to be deposited across multiple bank accounts. Some of the deposits were also connected to pre-paid debit cards. (What could be easier? I’m sure they had fun spending more than a million dollars.)

Johnson and Witherspoon both pleaded guilty to wire fraud and are scheduled for sentencing in March 2022. (That’s a victory for the law enforcement agencies who stopped these two from stealing more unemployment benefits. We’ll take a win against fraud any day.)

Today’s Fraud of the Day comes from a Department of Justice press release, “Two Defendants Plead Guilty to Unemployment Fraud Scheme,” dated December 8, 2021.

DETROIT – Two defendants pleaded guilty today to charges related to unemployment insurance benefit fraud schemes, announced Acting United States Attorney Saima Mohsin.

Joining in the announcement were Special Agent-in-Charge Timothy Waters, Federal Bureau of Investigation; Irene Lindow, Special Agent-in-Charge, Chicago Region, U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General and Julia Dale, Director of the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency.

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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.