(The Center Square) A federal grand jury has indicted six people from Benton Harbor on fraud charges.
They are accused of defrauding taxpayers by $1 million via unemployment insurance fraud and small business loans.
The indictment says between Apr. 2020 and Dec. 2021, six people submitted at least 98 false unemployment insurance claims in multiple states using at least 61 different names.
In response to those claims, Mich., Ind., Calif., Ill. and Ariz. paid out more than $764,000 in pandemic unemployment insurance benefits.
Those charged are Roshell Beaty, age 45; two sons of Beaty, 27-year-old Christopher Branch and 21-year-old Melvin Clinton; Beaty’s daughter, Danielle Branch, 28; Christopher Bates, 22; and Brianna Rimpson, 24.
Five of the six defendants are charged with varying counts of wire fraud related to pandemic unemployment insurance fraud and conspiring to commit wire fraud by taking loans for small businesses COVID-19 relief.
Mark Totten, a federal attorney, said his office will continue to protect taxpayers.
“While many individuals and families were suffering from the financial challenges caused by COVID-19, criminals used it as an opportunity to exploit pandemic relief programs for their own financial gain, knowing they were not entitled to the funds,” Totten said in a statement.
“My office will continue to collaborate with state and federal partners to rigorously investigate pandemic fraud throughout the district, pursue charges against those who have committed such fraud, and seek to recover ill-gotten gains.”
The Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency helped in the investigation.
“The Michigan UIA has zero tolerance for anyone accused of breaking the public trust by stealing from fellow taxpayers. We are committed to working with our law enforcement partners at the local, state, and federal levels to bring bad actors to justice and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law,” UIA Director Julia Dale said in a statement.
“Our investigators have helped bring charges against 90 people accused of pandemic unemployment fraud and we’re not stopping there. Rooting out fraud is a cornerstone of our ongoing reform of the agency and our commitment to providing exemplary customer service.”
In one instance, prosecutors say a loan of nearly $50,000 was said to be for a hair and nail salon of 10 employees and instead went toward a 2017 Jaguar F-Pace SUV. In another, prosecutors say more than a quarter-million dollars was taken from the Paycheck Protection Program.
A conviction for conspiracy to commit wire fraud is subject to a prison term of up to 30 years and a fine of up to $1 million, among other penalties. A conviction for aggravated identity theft carries a mandatory prison term of two years, to be served consecutively to any other sentence imposed.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kate Zell is prosecuting the case, which is proceeding before U.S. District Judge Janet T. Neff.