RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Three people in Virginia have pleaded guilty to conspiring to use the personal data of inmates incarcerated in the state’s prisons to illegally get access to COVID-19 unemployment benefits, the U.S. Department of Justice announced in a press release on Thursday, July 21.
The DOJ said court documents revealed that 31-year-old Veldreka L. Crockett, of Hopewell, once worked for a state-contracted company that helped manage Virginia’s Medicaid program. Her job entailed determining the Medicaid eligibility of incarcerated individuals in the Commonwealth.
According to the DOJ, in 2020 and 2021 Crockett conspired with two inmates at Virginia prisons — 38-year-old Clarence Stith III, of Lawrenceville Correctional Center in Lawrenceville, and 35-year-old Andre C. Mason, Jr., of Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt — to collect the personal identification information of other inmates in the prisons.
Crockett, Stith and Mason then used the information they obtained to file pandemic unemployment claims with the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) on behalf of at least 30 inmates. According to the DOJ, this caused the VEC to disburse approximately $318,727 in fraudulent pandemic-related unemployment benefits. The VEC was able to reclaim $25,920 of the disbursed funds after discovering the fraud, the DOJ said in its release.
In their claims to the VEC, Crockett and her co-conspirators used false statements about the inmates, including that they were unable to work because of the pandemic, to file for benefits. According to the DOJ’s release, the inmates could not work because they were incarcerated.
According to the DOJ, Crockett and her co-conspirators also filed weekly re-certifications for unemployment claims to ensure that the VEC would continue to pay benefits. As a result, the VEC mailed out pre-paid debit cards in the name of Virginia inmates to addresses listed by Crockett and her co-conspirators, the DOJ said.
Crockett worked with Stith and Mason to make sure that she would receive the pre-paid debit cards and be able to take a portion of the funds. Crockett also transferred funds from these debit cards to Stith and to individuals designated by Mason, according to the DOJ.
Crockett and Stith have pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit mail fraud and aggravated identity theft. The DOJ said they each face a maximum sentence of 32 years in prison and a mandatory minimum sentence of two years. They are both scheduled to be sentenced on October 20.
Mason pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit mail fraud, the DOJ said. He faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and is expected to be sentenced on October 13.