CLEVELAND - Four Northeast Ohio residents are being accused of defrauding six states out of more than $350,000 in an identity theft scheme.
Steven Dettelbach, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, said the group defrauded the state governments out of more than $361,000 in unemployment benefits.
Darnell Nash, 29, of Cleveland Heights, 20-year-old Kennard Berts of Cleveland Heights, 22-year-old Dwayne Buchannan, Jr. of Cleveland and 26-year-old Justin Davis of Cleveland Heights were named in the 33-count indictment.
The charges include conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and money laundering.
“These defendants took advantage of people looking for help, then defrauded funds that were designed to assist those out of work and facing hard times,” Dettelbach said in a release.
The indictment accuses the group of using a “fictitious employer” scheme from March 2012 to January 2013.
Officials said the group distributed pamphlets in low-income areas that appeared to be from the “Full Circle Fund” which appeared to offer assistance vouchers for rent, food, furniture, clothes and cash.
Those pamphlets asked people to call a toll-free number, and then the callers were asked to provide their names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers, according to the indictment.
The group would then use that information to file false claims to unemployment insurance offices, Dettelbach said.
Officials said the submitted false paperwork to states’ unemployment-insurance offices in which the defendants registered 10 companies that didn’t exist and reported non-existent earnings for fictitious employees.
The indictment states the group then filed false claims for unemployment benefits in California, Ohio, North Carolina, Texas, Indiana and Kansas.
The group would have benefit cards mailed to a variety of addresses in Ohio before collecting the cards at Nash’s home in Cleveland Heights. Attorneys said the group would then withdraw money from the cards at ATMs.
Officials said Nash deposited more than $200,000 in cash to two bank accounts in 2012 using money from the scheme.
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