Andrea Gervais, 43, a former employee with the Employment Development Department in California, has been accused of illicitly filing for pandemic economic relief dozens of times, including once under the name of a sitting United States senator.
Gervais, who was arrested Tuesday, landed on the radar of federal officials after Bank of America reported that a woman received $21,000 in pandemic relief payments on a debit card under the name of a U.S. senator, according to the Department of Justice. The debit card was issued as part of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provides benefits to some people who would not qualify for them, such as self-employed workers.
A criminal complaint against Gervais, who also goes by the name Andrea Dangerfield, notes that she received $216,876 worth of claims to her Northern California address. The unemployment department placed the “attempted dollar loss” at about $2.1 million.
Neither the Department of Justice nor the criminal complaint say the name of the U.S. senator Gervais allegedly used to file, however, the Sacramento Bee, citing two sources, reports the pandemic relief benefits were filed under the name of California’s Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to the mission of combatting fraud that abuses the provisions of the CARES Act,” said U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott in a statement Thursday. “We will work with every major law enforcement agency to investigate and prosecute the fraud arising out of the pandemic. This theft of taxpayer dollars intended to assist our citizens in a very difficult economic time simply will not be tolerated.”
Pandemic assistance programs in California have been rife with allegations of fraud in recent days, particularly connected to benefits doled out under the names of inmates. State investigators identified $400 million in illicit benefits to inmates earlier this year. According to The Los Angeles Times, more than a billion may have also been sent to people not even living in California, or in the United States.
The Department of Justice revealed Wednesday that Nyika Gomez, 40, a former contract employee with the Employment Development Department, has been charged for allegedly conspiring with her boyfriend, a California state prison inmate serving 94 years to life for murder, in a scheme to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits from fraudulent claims.
Gomez applied for claims using the names of inmates with the help of her boyfriend, who relayed the personal information of inmates to her and received debit cards loaded with illicit funds to her own address, according to the Department of Justice. Gomez also received benefits claims at the address of an unnamed accomplice and sent some of the money back to California inmates through prison account transfers.
“Pandemic unemployment insurance programs are a critical part of our safety net designed to support hardworking citizens who are suffering during this unprecedented time,” said Robert Brewer, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California. “Fraud related to COVID-19 is particularly disturbing as it exploits a national crisis for personal gain.”
Gomez faces up to 20 years in prison for wire fraud.