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23 indicted in unemployment benefits scheme

23 indicted in unemployment benefits scheme

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A federal grand jury has indicted 23 people in connection with a conspiracy to defraud the United States government by filing fraudulent claims for more than $499,000 in unemployment benefits, prosecutors said Wednesday.

The individuals, who reside through Southwest Virginia, conspired to file claims for COVID-19 pandemic unemployment benefits through the Virginia Employment Commission website, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The scheme involved submitting claims for various individuals who were not eligible to receive benefits, prosecutors said.

Court documents show that a number of the claims were for individuals currently incarcerated in jail facilities in Southwest Virginia.

Prosecutors said conspiracy members lied on the filings as part of the scheme to make filers appear eligible for benefits. Because unemployment benefits are paid weekly, false statements were filed on numerous occasions, they said.

In all, the conspiracy filed fraudulent claims for 37 individuals, causing at least $499,000 in false claims to be paid, the release states. Eight people have also already entered into plea agreements.

Local investigators from the Norton Police Department and Russell County Sheriff’s Office assisted federal investigators.

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