Pennsylvania officials charged 20 inmates and outside accomplices in a scheme to fraudulently bilk some $300,000 in COVID-19 unemployment benefits, according to ABC News.
The fraud ring operated across three state prisons, where inmates allegedly collected the personal information of other inmates and distributed them to their accomplices on the outside, who would then apply for pandemic relief funds in their names.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said the arrests are linked to at least two existing rings of inmates who were busted in similar COVID-19 related fraud cases.
“After announcing our first round of arrests in these COVID unemployment scams, I promised that there were more to come,” said Shapiro. “Today, 20 more individuals have been charged with illegally taking benefits away from hardworking Pennsylvanians who are struggling during this crisis.”
The investigation will continue, according to Shapiro. “These arrests are not the end of our investigation, and I’ll continue working with my colleagues at the federal level to track down those heading these schemes, along with those who are willfully participating and breaking the law.”
The arrests were part of a broader operation, which included a roundup of arrests at state correctional facilities in Centre County, Correctional Institution Benner, and in Schuylkill County at the Mahanoy State Correctional Institution.
The Benner ring included two ringleaders — inmate James Neff Zonge and his girlfriend Adele Moore — as well as and eight additional inmates.
Moore, a resident of State College, Pennsylvania, and Zonge were accused of helping start the ring. Officials said Moore successfully applied for COVID-19 unemployment benefits on Zonge’s behalf and began doing the same for others. Zonge allegedly received about $3,000 from the inmates for his help in filing the claims.
Moore allegedly kept the majority of the money for her own personal use. She also received about $7,000 from inmates for filing the applications and from two of the inmate debit cards that she received for the inmates at her residence. Zonge, meanwhile, netted about $3,000 from inmates for his part in the scheme. –ABC News
The ringleader of the State Correctional Institution Mahanoy scheme was allegedly Wendy Danfora of York, PA, and her inmate boyfriend Markal Munford – who is accused of applying for COVID-19 unemployment benefits, also using inmate names. While Danfora gave a portion of the fraudulently obtained funds to the inmates whose names she used, she kept the majority of the $109,900 in benefits to herself.
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