ICE HSI Task Force Busts Five for Covid-19 Unemployment-Fraud Scheme
LOS ANGELES – A woman who orchestrated a $2 million unemployment-fraud scheme has been the focus of the ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Task Force’s “Operation Stolen Promise.” Her whereabouts have been easy to follow, as she’s serving a life sentence in prison.
However, the scheme has many layers. Investigators with HSI-led El Camino Real Financial Crimes Task Force arrested a handful of people Tuesday.
All five are linked to a ring that allegedly obtained at least $2 million in California unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. Not only did they get most of that money from the pandemic-related relief fund – they also used stolen identities of California prison inmates.
ICE released that the lead defendant is Natalie Le Demola (37), who’s currently serving a life prison sentence for her 2005 first-degree murder conviction. Also charged is Carleisha Neosha Plummer (32) of Los Angeles – who was a close associate of Demola in prison until her parole in July 2020.
The indictment shows how Investigators say Demola, Plummer and other coconspirators would acquire names, dates of birth, and social security numbers of people – including identity-theft victims – who were not eligible for UI benefits, (including pandemic benefits,) because they were employed, retired, or incarcerated.
Members of the conspiracy then took the next step – to allegedly use pop the illegally-obtained information into fraudulent online applications for UI benefits from the California Employment Development Department (EDD). As the applications were approved, the schemers received debit cards funded by the EDD, which allowed them to withdraw money from ATMs across Southern California.
Thirteen defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud. 150 overt acts are alleged in the conspiracy – “including illegally obtaining personal identifying information (PII), some of which were provided by an unnamed prison official employed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation,” says ICE.
In addition, “The indictment names various defendants in 31 bank fraud counts and seven aggravated identity theft counts,” announced ICE. “Arrests were made pursuant to a 39-count indictment that charges 13 defendants in a scheme to use PII to fraudulently apply for, and receive, unemployment benefits, mainly during the second half of 2020.”
Demola, originally of Corona
Plummer, 32, of Los Angeles
Khanshanda King, 31, of Los Angeles
Cleshay Johnson II, 28, of Los Angeles
James Antonio Johnson, who has several aliases, including “Big Dawg Niddy,” 31, of Los Angeles
Felicite Aleisha King, 41, of Los Angeles
Shafequah Lynete Mitchell, 33, of Los Angeles
Loresha Shamone Davis, 31, of Moreno Valley
Porsha Latrice Johnson, 32, of Lynwood
Donisha Lashawn Pace, 38, of South Los Angeles
Dominique Charmone Martin, 37, of Yucaipa
Amber Jane Wade, 34, of Palmdale
“While most of the world was suffering due to COVID, these defendants sought to enrich themselves,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Eddy Wang. “HSI Los Angeles and its partners are committed to ensuring that criminals and criminal organizations do not profit off the misery caused by the pandemic.”
The conspiracy and bank fraud charges each carry a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison. Aggravated identity theft carries a mandatory two-year consecutive sentence.
MISSION STATEMENT – Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through international trade, travel, and finance. To report suspected illicit criminal activity or fraudulent schemes related to the COVID-19 pandemic, email Covid19Fraud@dhs.gov. Call 1-866-DHS-2-ICE to report suspicious activity.