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Texas Woman Arrested for Unemployment Fraud Related to COVID-19 Pandemic

BOSTON – A Texas woman was arrested last week and charged in federal court in Boston in connection with her alleged involvement in a scheme to fraudulently claim COVID-19-related unemployment assistance.

Donna Wasson, 36, of San Antonio, Texas, was charged in a criminal complaint with one count of wire fraud. Wasson will make an initial appearance in federal court in the Southern District of Texas today.

According to the charging documents, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) created a temporary federal unemployment insurance program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). PUA, administered by the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance, provides unemployment insurance benefits for individuals who are not eligible for other types of unemployment benefits (e.g., the self-employed, independent contractors, or gig economy workers).

According to the charging documents, Wasson applied for Massachusetts unemployment benefits despite residing in Texas and receiving unemployment benefits via the Texas Workplace Commission.

In addition, the complaint alleges that Wasson carried out instructions concerning other fraudulent unemployment claims from a former Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) employee, who allegedly submitted unemployment claims under multiple stolen identities and conspired with her husband to fraudulently obtain unemployment benefits to which they were not entitled.

The charge of wire fraud provides for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, up to three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The investigation is being conducted by Homeland Security’s Investigation’s Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force (DBFTF), a specialized field investigative group comprised of personnel from various local, state, and federal agencies with expertise in detecting, deterring, and disrupting organizations and individuals involved in various types of document, identity, and benefit fraud schemes.

Acting United States Attorney Nathaniel R. Mendell; William S. Walker, Acting Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Boston; and Michael Mikulka, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations made the announcement today. Special assistance was provided by the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance, Program Integrity Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Bill Abely and Dustin Chao of Mendell’s Criminal Division are prosecuting the case.

The details contained in the charging documents are allegations. The defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.