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LOS ANGELES – A woman serving a life sentence in state prison for murder was sentenced on July 10 in a federal court to 84 months in federal prison for leading a ring that fraudulently obtained approximately $1.5 million in California unemployment insurance benefits. They used stolen identities, including some belonging to her fellow California prison inmates, to get mostly pandemic-related relief.
Natalie Le Demola, 38, currently incarcerated at the California Institution for Women in Corona, was sentenced by United States District Judge John F. Walter, who also ordered her to pay $933,181 in restitution. Demola is serving a life sentence after being convicted in 2005 of the first-degree murder of her mother.
Demola pleaded guilty on March 7 to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud, three counts of bank fraud, and one count of aggravated identity theft.
From June 2020 until April 2021, Demola and other co-conspirators acquired the personally identifiable information, such as the names, dates of birth, and social security numbers, of individuals – including identity theft victims – who were not eligible for unemployment benefits, including pandemic benefits, because they were employed, retired, or incarcerated.
Members of the conspiracy then used the information to make fraudulent online applications for unemployment benefits from the California Employment Development Department. Once the applications were approved, members of the conspiracy received EDD-funded debit cards that allowed them to withdraw money from ATMs across Southern California.
The total loss incurred by this conspiracy was $1,546,933.
“The fraud committed in this case took advantage of taxpayers and community members in need” said Homeland Security Investigations Los Angeles Acting Special Agent in Charge Eddy Wang. “This funding was intended to mitigate the risk to vulnerable American families in need of food, housing, and other necessities in the wake of COVID-19 but was stolen by this individual for personal enrichment. Rest assured that HSI and their partners will vigilantly pursue those seeking to exploit these programs to ensure that Americans in need have access to the funding they are entitled.”
“[Demola] led and organized a scheme in which she and her coconspirators pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars allocated for residents of California who were unemployed on account of the COVID19 pandemic,” prosecutors argued in a sentencing memorandum. “[Demola] made a cost-benefit analysis and decided that the money and influence, including among fellow inmates, that she stood to gain was worth the additional penalties she faced if she were caught.”
Prosecutors secured a total of 13 guilty pleas in this case.
The investigation into this scheme was conducted by the HSI-led Los Angeles El Camino Real Financial Crimes Task Force, a multi-agency task force that includes federal and state investigators focused on financial crimes in Southern California. The California Employment Development Department, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the United States Department of Labor – Office of Inspector General, the Inglewood Police Department and the United States Marshals Service participated in this investigation.
Assistant United States Attorneys Nisha Chandran of the Cyber and Intellectual Property Crimes Section and David C. Lachman of the Terrorism and Export Crimes Section prosecuted this case.
HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees is comprised of more than 6,000 special agents stationed in 237 U.S. cities and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents the largest DHS investigative law enforcement presence overseas and one of the largest in U.S. law enforcement.
ICE breaking news HSI-led task force secures a 7-year sentence against woman on COVID benefits fraud https://governmentagencynews.com/hsi-led-task-force-secures-a-7-year-sentence-against-woman-on-covid-benefits-fraud/ https://www.ice.gov/rss/ice-breaking-news https://www.ice.gov/news/releases/hsi-led-task-force-secures-7-year-sentence-against-woman-covid-benefits-fraud Government Agency News http://governmentagencynews.com https://www.ice.gov/sites/default/files/images/dhsIceSocial1.jpg