US Lawyer’s Workplace: 5 Southwest Virginians plead responsible to pandemic unemployment scheme

ABINGDON, Va. (WJHL) — Five Southwest Virginia residents pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court after working with 30 others to file fraudulent claims for more than $499,000 in pandemic unemployment benefits, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The release states that Patrick Payne, 43; Randall Johnson, 42; Steven Mullins Jr., 33; Curtis Mullins, 25; and Melinda Davis, 58, worked together to file claims through the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) website.

They are accused of filing claims for people not eligible to receive pandemic unemployment benefits — including multiple inmates in Southwest Virginia regional jails.

Altogether, the conspiracy filed fraudulent claims for 37 individuals, taking nearly half a million dollars.

“These five individuals used a carefully orchestrated series of lies to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars intended for Virginians struggling during a once-in-a-generation global health pandemic,” United States Attorney Daniel P. Bubar said. “The Department of Justice is grateful to the Internal Revenue Service, Department of Labor and the Virginia Employment Commission for their hard work and commitment to investigating these cases and bringing these individuals to justice.”

Each faces a maximum punishment of 30 years in prison. A federal district court judge will determine sentencing at a later date.

The Department of Labor Office of the Inspector General and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, the state of Virginia, the Norton Police Department and the Russell County Sheriff’s Office continue to investigate the case.

Anyone with information regarding attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it to the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud by calling 866-720-5721 or by filing a complaint HERE.

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