When the CARES Act was passed in March 2020, it was meant to provide support to Americans who lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic. It was not meant to be used by unscrupulous individuals to assist their children, who were serving time in prison. (It never ceases to amaze me how creative some fraudsters can be. Good try, but uh, no.)
An application to receive funds from the CARES Act was electronically filed in June 2020 under the name of Levi Stroud, 25. The application stated that Stroud was unemployed as a direct result of the pandemic and would be willing to accept a job.
Stroud was actually serving time at State Correctional Institution-Greene (SCI-Greene) in Waynesburg, Pa. at the time the applications were filed. He has been incarcerated since early 2018 after his involvement in numerous crimes across the Pittsburgh, Pa. area. (Well, that explains why he could not hold a job in the first place.)
It was later revealed that Stroud was not the one filing applications for unemployment assistance, but rather his mother, Christina Weigner, 48, from Clarksburg, W. Va. (After all, mother knows best.) Weigner made 19 separate certifications on Stroud’s behalf that he was unemployed during the pandemic. Consequently, Stroud received $9,000 in federal benefits to compensate for 19 weeks of unemployment while serving time in prison. (Let’s be clear here. Serving time in prison is NOT a job and it’s not something a prisoner should be paid for.)
The mother-son scheme was revealed when Weigner made a call to SCI-Greene and informed Stroud that she applied for him to receive unemployment assistance by back filing for another 18 weeks. That would qualify him to receive another $9,300 in unemployment benefits on a debit card. (Did she not realize that prison officials listen to phone conversations?) Stroud later admitted to FBI investigators that he also contributed to the unemployment fraud scheme. (It was a good choice to confess since there was solid evidence of the scheme.)
It turns out that Stroud was not the only one participating in this conspiracy. Thirty-three other inmates in Western Pennsylvania were charged this past summer with illegally receiving CARES Act benefits. (Once a fraudster has success with a scam, news travels fast and copycats abound.)
Weigner pleaded guilty in federal court to charges of conspiracy and fraud, and faces a sentence of almost 30 years in prison and/or a fine of $250,000. Stroud also awaits trial on the same counts related to his own case. (Mother did not know best in this case, she actually made things worse for both of them.)
Today’s Fraud of the Day comes from an article, “W. Va. Woman pleads guilty to COVID unemployment relief fraud,” published by The Observer-Reporter on February 3, 2021.
A former Washington County woman pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in Pittsburgh to filing for unemployment benefits on behalf of her son while he was an inmate at SCI-Greene prison.
Christina Marie Weigner, 48, pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy and fraud in connection with emergency benefits after applying for 19 weeks of federal stimulus benefits that paid more than $9,000 to the prisoner last summer.