ALEXANDRIA, Va. (WRIC) – A Fredericksburg man pleaded guilty this week to fraudulently applying for pandemic unemployment benefits alongside three of his family members, and using that money to take out cash and buy luxury jewelry. In addition to this scheme, his sister was indicted for her role in mail theft and bank fraud that occurred around the same time.
According to court documents, Eric Wilhoit, II, 28, and three of his family members conspired to obtain false pandemic unemployment benefits between around May 2020 through January 2022. Also involved into the conspiracy was Eric Wilhoit’s two siblings, Odyssey Wilhoit, 23, and Jeremiah Wilhoit, 26, and his cousin, Dejhaun Wilhoit, 26.
According statements made in his guilty plea on Monday, Nov. 7, Eric Wilhoit applied for pandemic unemployment benefits in his name and in the names of others, including identity theft victims. As part of these applications, he lied about the applicants’ work history and that they lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Eric Wilhoit said he recruited others so he could use their physical addresses to receive the prepaid debit cards that contained the unemployment benefits. He told his coconspirators how to apply for benefits, including how to use virtual private networks (VPNs) and fake email addresses to hide the fraud.
Using the benefits, Eric Wilhoit and his coconspirators made large cash withdrawals and bought luxury goods, including a diamond ring. According to Eric Wilhoit, the cash withdrawals and luxury items were between $550,000 and $3.5 million in value.
Eric Wilhoit would later attempt to flee from police who were trying to arrest him, ultimately leading to a high-speed chase. The chase ended when he crashed his car — all with his children in the backseat.
In addition to the pandemic unemployment benefits scheme, Odyssey Wilhoit was also conspiring with Jaleai Morrison, 23, of Temple, Ga., in a separate mail theft and bank fraud scheme around the same time.
In this scheme, Morrison would steal checks from a U.S. postal collection box and give the checks or personal information from the checks to Odyssey Wilhoit. Odyssey Wilhoit then allegedly used the information to create and deposit counterfeit checks. After her conspiracy with Morrison ended, Odyssey Wilhoit allegedly continued this scheme through at least July 2022.
Morrison pleaded guilty on Monday, Nov. 7 to participating in this scheme.
Eric Wilhoit and Morrison are scheduled to be sentenced on January 25, 2023. Eric Wilhoit faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, while Morrison faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.
If convicted, Odyssey Wilhoit, Jeremiah Wilhoit, and Dejhaun Wilhoit face a mandatory minimum of 2 years and maximum penalty of 30 years.