Pandemic Perpetrators

Unemployment claim form on an office table.

Melissa Hayes, 51, of Bristol, Tenn., was sentenced for conspiring to file for nearly $500,000 in pandemic unemployment benefits she was not entitled to. Hayes worked with others to commit unemployment fraud by filing claims through the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC).

The team of conspirators collected identification information for 37 individuals who were ineligible for the pandemic-related unemployment benefits. Fifteen of these identities were from inmates incarcerated at Southwest Virginia regional jails. (While inmates are unable to work, they cannot collect unemployment benefits because they did something illegal that put them behind bars.)

The conspirators attempted to increase the likelihood of receiving benefits by making it appear that their 37 victims were eligible to receive unemployment benefits. (This may have strengthened their case for pocketing the pandemic benefits, but it also helped build the case for locking them behind bars.)

Over nine months, Hayes and her co-conspirators filed unemployment claims for 37 different individuals. (Hopefully, they can make friends that fast in prison too.)

These fraudulent unemployment claims caused a $499,000 in loss to the United States. This pandemic perpetrator pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit unemployment fraud. It looks like she’ll be spending the next 24 months behind bars in prison.

Today’s Fraud of the Day comes from a Department of Justice press release, “Bristol, Tennessee Woman Sentenced to 24 Months in Prison for Role in Pandemic Unemployment Scheme,” dated July 26, 2021.

ABINGDON, Va. – A Bristol, Tenn. woman, who conspired with others to fraudulently file more than $499,000 in in pandemic unemployment benefits, was sentenced today to 24 months in federal prison.

Melissa Hayes, 51, pleaded guilty earlier this year to one count of conspiracy to commit unemployment fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud.



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Larry Benson
Larry Benson is currently the Director of Strategic Alliances for Revenue Discovery and Recovery at LexisNexis Risk Solutions. In this role, Benson is responsible for developing partnerships for the tax and revenue and child support enforcement verticals. He focuses on embedded companies that have a need for third-party analytics to enhance their current offerings.