Virginia government employee sentenced for $1.8 million pandemic fraud scheme

written by Benjamin Fried

Federal prosecutors said Tuesday that a Virginia woman who once worked for a submerged government agency has been sentenced to nearly six years in prison for disrupting federal COVID-19 relief programs.

Sadie Mitchell, 30, pleaded guilty in May to a charge of using her Virginia Automobile Dealership Board job between May 2020 and August 2021 to gain access to government databases to pull personally identifiable information from various individuals — including her personal information — and then used that. Data to provide false claims from several financial assistance programs implemented during the height of the pandemic.

At the time of her appeal, Mitchell pleaded guilty to fraud totaling $1.2 million, and that number has since risen to $1.8 million, according to the Department of Justice. press release.

Judge Hannah M. Locke sentenced Mitchell to 70 months in prison during Tuesday’s hearing in a Richmond district court.

According to court records, Mitchell and his co-conspirator targeted money from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program, which gave the unemployed an additional $600 per week; Economic Disaster Loan Program, which supported small businesses; and the Paycheck Protection Program, which complements companies that have operated during the pandemic.

Prosecutors said Mitchell used information from a state database to file claims with the Virginia Employment Commission, which administers PUA funds in the Commonwealth. They also said that she sometimes added false and misleading information, such as the alleged recent employer of these individuals.

Mitchell and her co-conspirator filed at least 30 claims in this way and raised over $700,000 in pandemic unemployment funds — distributed in the form of preloaded debit cards and direct deposits — over the course of the scheme. The first known claim came on May 19, 2020, when Mitchell filed her name, but lied that she had been terminated from the Automobile Dealer Board in April 2019.

In at least 20 other cases, Mitchell also used the names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of people working in correctional facilities to file false unemployment claims, and earned more than $300,000, according to court records.

Mitchell also admitted that she made at least five paycheck protection applications and six EIDL applications using the fake names, addresses and income numbers of the companies she claimed to be operating. All five PPP applications were approved by a bank handling the funds, resulting in a payment of about $100,000. Meanwhile, the Small Business Administration denied the EIDL claims, but in one case still sent $10,000 to a bank account Mitchell controlled, according to court records.

Epidemiological assistance programs, hastily created in first weeks From the health crisis, it was bypassed Fraudulent activity nationwidewith losses ranging from $100 billion to $400 billion, much of it stolen International cyber criminals rings. The Ministry of Justice in May set up a special office for Investigation of epidemic relief fraud.

The Virginia Employment Commission did not deliver. that audit last november It found that it paid out over $1.5 billion in false claims over the course of the pandemic aid money. The commission was also one of several government unemployment agencies that were affected by Ransomware attack on IT vendor Last November, which came shortly after that Switched to new IT systems and user interfaces.

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