NEWARK, NJ – An Illinois man today admitted to using other people’s personally identifiable information to fraudulently obtain unemployment insurance benefits while incarcerated, U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger said. .
Devontae Stokes, 27, of Country Club Hills, Illinois, pleaded guilty by videoconference before U.S. District Judge Madeline Cox Arleo to an inquest charging him with conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
According to documents filed in the case and statements made in court:
On March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) was signed into law. The CARES Act created a new, temporary federal unemployment insurance program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which provided unemployment insurance benefits to people who were not eligible for other types of unemployment (eg. example, the self-employed, independent contractors, gig economy workers). The CARES Act also created a temporary new federal program called Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (FPUC) that provided an additional weekly benefit to those eligible for PUA and regular unemployment insurance benefits.
Between August 2020 and November 2020, Stokes was incarcerated at FCI Fort Dix, a federal correctional facility with an adjacent satellite camp located in Fort Dix, New Jersey. Stokes and his conspirators obtained Personally Identifiable Information (PII), including names, dates of birth, and social security numbers belonging to other people without those people’s knowledge and consent. Stokes and his conspirators then used the PII to make fraudulent claims for unemployment insurance benefits and obtained over $140,000 in benefits.
The charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud carries a potential maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of the greater of $250,000, twice Stokes’ gross profits or twice the gross loss suffered by victims, whichever is greater. Sentencing is scheduled for August 23, 2022.
US Attorney Sellinger credited special agents in the US Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, under Special Agent in Charge Jonathan Mellone, in New York; FBI Special Agents, under Special Agent in Charge George M. Crouch Jr., in Newark; and special agents from the United States Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Jason J. Molina, in Newark, the investigation leading to today’s guilty plea.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Kogan of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Cybercrime Unit in Newark.