DOJ: Southwest Va. residents sentenced for role in COVID-19 unemployment fraud

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FILE Photo: Generic jail/prison corridor via Getty

CASTLEWOOD, Va. (WJHL) – Four people involved in a scheme that included more than 30 people have been sentenced to prison for claiming unemployment benefits and committing mail fraud, according to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

A release from the DOJ states that the following individuals were sentenced:

  • Randall Johnson, 42, of Castlewood, Va. – 24 months
  • Steven Mullins, 34, of Big Stone Gap, Va. – 27 months
  • Ajay Johnson, 26, of Fruitland Park, Florida – 30 months
  • Patrick Payne, 43, of Big Stone Gap, Va. – 24 months

Those involved in the scheme filed claims totaling “more than $499,00 in pandemic unemployment benefits.

“The nearly $500,000 in funds stolen by this conspiracy could have gone to Virginians in critical need of support during a pandemic, but instead went into the hands of those undeserving,” United States Attorney Christopher R. Kavanaugh said in the release. “The sentences handed out this week prove that this Department of Justice will not standby as individuals take advantage of programs designed to help our nation recover from this once in a generation health crisis.”

The DOJ reports the four people sentenced conspired with other people to make their fraudulent claims through the Virginia Employment Commission website. While partaking in the scheme, the sentenced people submitted claims for pandemic unemployment benefits on behalf of ineligible people, including multiple inmates that were in Southwest Virginia regional jails at the time.

According to the release, eight other people involved in the scheme have already made plea agreements.

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