NEWARK, N.J. – A Newark man made his initial appearance today on charges of engaging in fraud by illegally obtaining unemployment insurance benefits, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced today.
Jefferson Robert, 30, was arrested on Oct. 20, 2020, by inspectors of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and special agents of the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, and the FBI. He is charged by complaint with one count of wire fraud and appeared by videoconference for his initial appearance today before U.S. Magistrate Judge James B. Clark III.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
On March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) was signed into law. The CARES Act created a new temporary federal unemployment insurance program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which provided unemployment insurance benefits for individuals who were not eligible for other types of unemployment (e.g., self-employed, independent contractors, gig economy workers). The CARES Act also created a new temporary federal program called Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (FPUC) that provided an additional $600 weekly benefit to those eligible for PUA and regular unemployment insurance benefits. The Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD) administered and managed the regular unemployment and PUA programs in the State of Washington.
On Aug. 6, 2019, Robert opened a bank account at Bank 1 in the name of “Johny Eto” using a fake United Kingdom passport. On May 8, 2020, an application was made to ESD for unemployment benefits in the name of an individual (Victim 1) using Victim 1’s personal identification information. On May 12, 2020, pursuant to instructions by the individual purporting to be Victim 1, the State of Washington sent a wire transfer into a bank account in the amount of $7,930.
This bank account received additional funds from a Business Enterprise Compromise scheme as well as IRS payments resulting from fraudulent activity. Between March 11, 2020, and May 1, 2020, a debit card associated with the bank account was used to purchase approximately 57 U.S. Postal Service money orders totaling $52,000. The “from” information on most of the money orders listed the name “Jefferson Robert” and an address in Newark. Records from New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission reflect that Robert provided that address when obtaining a driver’s license.
Robert also used the fraudulent UK passport to open bank accounts at three other banks. These accounts were all frozen or closed due to suspicious activity. For example, on Sept. 19, 2019, a check payable to “Johny Eto” in the amount of $27,400 was deposited into one of those bank accounts. The check was drawn on an account in the name of an individual, who stated that he did not open the account and does not know either Johny Eto or Robert.
Robert and his conspirators caused losses of more than $500,000.
U.S. Attorney Carpenito credited inspectors of the United States Postal Inspection Service, under the direction of Acting Inspector in Charge Raimundo Marrero, in Newark; special agents of the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael C. Mikulka, in New York, and special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge George M. Crouch Jr., in Newark, with the investigation leading to today’s arrest.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Kogan of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Cybercrime Unit in Newark.
Please report COVID-19 fraud, hoarding or price-gouging to the National Center for Disaster Fraud’s National Hotline at (866) 720-5721, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The charge and allegations contained in the complaint are merely accusations and the defendant is considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.