BOSTON (WWLP) – A woman from Lawrence was arrested for alleged identity theft and unemployment fraud in connection with a scheme to fraudulently obtain COVID-19-related unemployment assistance.
According to the office of acting U.S. Attorney Nathaniel R. Mendell 40-year old Raquel Pena was charged in a criminal complaint with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.
Pena was released on conditions after an initial appearance in federal court in Boston.
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 provides unemployment insurance benefits for individuals who are not eligible for other types of unemployment benefits.
Pena and others allegedly conspired to file fraudulent claims for PUA using others’ personally identifiable information. Pena recruited acquaintances to receive the proceeds of the fraudulent claims into their bank accounts and then withdraw all or a portion of those funds and give the cash to Pena.
The investigation allegedly connected Pena and her co-conspirators to more than $300,000 in unemployment claims between May 2020 and March 2021.
The charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud can provide a sentence of up to 20 years in prison and up to three years of supervised release as well as a fine of $250,000.
The charge of aggravated identity theft provides for a mandatory sentence of two years in prison, one year of supervised release, and a fine of $250,000.
The Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance was also part of the investigation and the Financial and Cyber Fraud Unit is prosecuting the case.