RIVERSIDE — A 29-year-old Corona man accused of orchestrating a scheme to steal more than $2 million in unemployment benefits intended for those left jobless during the coronavirus pandemic was arrested Wednesday on a 14-count federal indictment.
Robert Campbell Jr. was among eight people charged with mail fraud, aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to commit mail fraud following a multi-agency investigation that included the Office of the Inspector General of the California Employment Development Department, the U.S. Postal Service and the U.S. Secret Service.
According to prosecutors, from March 2020 to July 2021, Campbell led his cohorts in allegedly exploiting the expanded eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits provided under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security — CARES — Act signed into law by former President Donald Trump in March 2020.
Monetary aid was available under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Lost Wage Assistance programs.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office alleged that the conspirators obtained the personally identifiable information, or PII, of dozens of individuals, including names, birth dates and Social Security numbers. Some of the claimants did not reside in California and included a prisoner in Texas and a homeless man, prosecutors said.
Applications were falsified to show claimants’ had annual incomes of at least $42,000, and that they were self-employed and financially impacted, suffering hardships, when the public health lockdowns began, according to the prosecution. Locations of the fictional businesses were allegedly made up by Campbell and his co-conspirators.
The individuals’ PII details were utilized to file unemployment claims, leading to “174 fraudulent applications to be filed with EDD, resulting in 125 fraudulent claims to be paid to 116 unique claimants, causing losses of approximately $2,091,436,” according to a U.S. Attorney’s Office statement.
If convicted, Campbell and the others could face more than 30 years in federal prison.
State auditors have estimated the losses due to fraudulent CARES unemployment relief funding claims to be at least $20 billion, with money going to numerous parties outside California, prisoners and jail detainees.
Investigations have culminated in multiple state and federal convictions, with cases still awaiting adjudication in Riverside County.