EVANSVILLE – United States Attorney Josh J. Minkler announced today, Rose Ann Azzarello, 60, Ft. Branch, Ind., and Andrea Renee Pytlinski, 38, Ft. Branch, Ind., were arrested and charged with wire fraud.
“With any crisis, comes criminals looking for the opportunity to cash in for their own benefit. The coronavirus health crisis has not been immune from their fraudulent schemes” said Minkler. “These fraudsters steal money that does not belong to them for their greedy purposes, which strains the programs that are meant to help those most in need.”
On March 27, 2020, the President signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This legislation provides emergency assistance and health care response for individuals, families, and businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic
The CARES Act was designed to mitigate the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in a variety of ways. The CARES Act includes a provision of temporary benefits for individuals who have exhausted their entitlement to regular unemployment compensation, as
well as coverage for individuals who are not eligible for regular unemployment compensation, are self-employed, or have limited recent work history.
On 5/15/2020, the Fort Branch Police Department received a complaint from Field and Main Bank in Evansville, regarding account transactions in which Washington State Unemployment benefits were being ACH transferred into Indiana bank accounts held by Azzarello and Pytlinski.
Those accounts were funded with Washington State unemployment benefits and the proceeds of an alleged check scam. For more than a year, Azzaarello and Pytlinski participated in a wire fraud scheme by receiving and sending funds via wire and common courier as directed by someone only known as “William Lewis”. As the illicit funds are deposited into their accounts, Azzarello and Pytlinski would withdraw the funds prior to the detection of any fraud and then transmit a portion of the ill-gotten funds to a third party while retaining their share.
The United States Secret Service has received reports about a well-organized fraud ring exploiting the COVID-19 crisis to commit large-scale fraud against state unemployment insurance programs. The primary state targeted so far is Washington.
This fraud network is believed to consist of hundreds, if not thousands, of money mules with potential losses in the millions of dollars. The financial institutions targeted have been at all levels including local banks, credit unions and large national banks.
This case was the result of an investigation by the United States Secret Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Ft. Branch Police Department.
“Today’s announcement illustrates the Secret Service’s commitment to combating COVID-19 unemployment fraud,” said Eric Reed, Special Agent in Charge, Secret Service Indianapolis Field Office. “The immediate investigative actions taken by the Secret Service and our local, state and federal law enforcement partners as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Office, prevented legitimate unemployment funds from getting into the wrong hands. The Secret Service will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to investigate and arrest criminals who attempt to defraud the critical COVID-19 relief programs and the American taxpayer.”
“Criminals profiting off this crisis and targeting programs meant to help Americans when they are at their most vulnerable is unacceptable,” said Special Agent in Charge Paul Keenan, FBI Indianapolis. “Those who would perpetrate such illegal activity during these unprecedented times should know that the FBI and our law enforcement partners haven’t been sitting idly by. We have continued to aggressively identify and pursue those who fraudulently profit from the pandemic to quickly reduce the threat from these scams.”
According to Assistant United States Attorney Todd Shellenbarger who is prosecuting this case for the government, each defendant faces up to 20 years’ imprisonment, 3 years of supervised release, and a maximum fine of $250,000.
A charge is not evidence of guilt. All parties are presumed innocent until proven otherwise in federal court.
This prosecution is an example of the Department of Justice’s strong commitment to combating fraud and criminal activity related to COVID-19, which is reflected in the creation of a Coronavirus Fraud Task Force in the Southern District of Indiana. If you receive any forms of suspicious communication related to the COVID-19 crisis, or become aware of family and friends that have received suspicious communications, I ask that you don’t respond directly but instead report the activity to the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 1-866-720-5721, or to the NCDF e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org.”