OAKLAND, Calif. — A former California unemployment agency employee allegedly used Sen. Dianne Feinstein‘s identity to fraudulently claim $21,000 in unemployment insurance benefits this year, according to a newly unsealed federal criminal complaint.
The allegation is another black eye for California’s unemployment insurance system, which has been beset by a drumbeat of fraud complaints — including a crime ring that allegedly obtained payments for inmates — even as out-of-work Californians complain they cannot access needed benefits.
Federal prosecutors believe that a former employee of the state’s Employment Development Department, Andrea Gervais, used Feinstein’s name as part of a ploy to wring unemployment money from the agency where she formerly worked. The complaint said a U.S. senator’s name was used; a source with direct knowledge of the investigation confirmed that it was Feinstein’s.
Investigators began looking into Gervais after a bank employee discovered a $21,000 unemployment claim in Feinstein’s name, according to the complaint. Prosecutors alleged that Gervais filed scores of claims worth more than $2.1 million, successfully receiving about $216,000 across a dozen claims.
With vast sums of unemployment aid flowing through EDD amid a pandemic-induced recession, fraud has become a constant threat. Earlier this year, local prosecutors revealed that jail and prison inmates may have fraudulently secured hundreds of millions from the state.
Federal officials this fall arrested a rapper on charges of allegedly securing $1.2 million in fraudulent claims from the California unemployment agency. He boasted about scamming the government on a music video called “EDD” — the state agency’s name — where he flashed benefit debit cards and official state envelopes.
Two other cases emerged on Thursday. Prosecutors accused a San Diego woman of conspiring to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars of aid with a boyfriend who is serving a 94-year prison term for murder; in a separate case, they accused two jail inmates of conspiring to submit fraudulent unemployment claims.
Despite such defendants allegedly having easy access to cash, many Californians have struggled to obtain unemployment benefits through the state’s decrepit system even as the coronavirus pandemic has deprived many residents of an income.
The combination of alleged fraud and widespread difficulties in accessing benefits has increased the political pressure on California’s elected officials — especially Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has endured a string of missteps this fall and frustration from some residents tired of pandemic-related closures.
Lawmakers of both parties have excoriated the Employment Development Department, saying they are inundated by complaints from frustrated constituents. Local prosecutors who uncovered the alleged prison scheme pleaded with Newsom to take a more…
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