SACRAMENTO, California – California’s unemployment benefit payment system is not working so well that the state has approved more than $ 140 million for at least 20,000 inmates, local and federal prosecutors said Tuesday, detailing the system that resulted in well-established filed lawsuits against known convicted killers such as Scott Peterson and Cary Stayner.
From March to August, more than 35,000 inmates were named in lawsuits filed with the California Department of Employment Development and more than 20,000 were paid, says Sacramento County Attorney General Anne Marie Schubert. At least 158 lawsuits have been filed against 133 death row inmates, representing more than $ 420,000 in benefits paid
“It affects violent and child molesters, human traffickers and other violent criminals in state prisons,” Schubert said.
The list includes Peterson, who was sentenced to death after being convicted of murdering his pregnant wife following a trial bordering the nation. The California Supreme Court recently overturned Peterson’s death sentence and ordered a lower court to review his murder verdict.
Schubert confirmed that a claim had been filed on behalf of Scott Peterson, but declined to provide further details.
Peterson’s attorney, Pat Harris, said that while Peterson’s name was revealed during the investigation, there is no evidence that Peterson received unemployment benefits from the state.
“This investigation, when completed, shows that it had nothing to do with any system to achieve fraudulent benefits,” Harris said.
Schubert listed a number of detainees on whose behalf an action was brought, including Stayner, who was convicted in 1999 of killing four people in or near Yosemite National Park; Susan Eubanks, a San Diego woman sentenced to death in 1997 for the shooting of her four sons; Isauro Aguirre, sentenced to death for the 2013 murder of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez in Los Angeles; and Wesley Shermantine, a duo named “Speed Freak Killers,” for their killer rage caused by meta in the 1980s and ’90s.
Prosecutors said they learned about the system from hearing recorded prison calls, where detainees talked about how easy it is for everyone to get paid. It was said that someone from outside was always involved in the scheme – usually friends or family members of the detainees who then received the benefits.
In Kern County, home to five state prisons, an address was used to care for 16 inmates.
“For almost four decades in the state, when I worked as a prosecutor, I’ve never seen such a scam,” said Cynthia Zimmer, a district prosecutor in Kern County.
In some cases, inmates used their real names. Others used fake names and even fake social security numbers. In one case, a detainee used the name “poopy britches,” Schubert said.
“Honestly, the inmates are making fun of us,” Schubert said.
So far, 22 people have been indicted in San Mateo County, including six people who were not in prison. Dozens say dozens of other investigations are ongoing across the state, prosecutors say.
Prosecutors have blamed the Employment Development Department, which has covered more than 16.4 million care needs since the March pandemic began, resulting in more than 1.6 million people living at the same time.
But prosecutors say in a hurry to approve benefits, the ministry has not checked unemployment claims on the list of prisoners, as many other states do. Stephen Wagstaffe, a San Mateo district attorney, said when he notified the department of detainees fraudulently receiving benefits, he was told they could not suspend payments until they were formally prosecuted.
The problem was so serious that on Monday, nine county district attorneys sent a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom asking for his intervention.
“We face an obvious problem that requires action, not speech,” said McGregor Scott, a U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of California.
Loree Levy, a spokeswoman for the Employment Development Department, said the agency had worked with the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Labor to cross-check allegations with detainees, saying “they are working to integrate such cross-contracts as part of increased prevention efforts. an unprecedented time of pandemic-related unemployment fraud across the country. “
In an email to the AP, Newsom described the fraud as “absolutely unacceptable”. He said he first learned of the fraud earlier this year, prompting him to instruct the department to “review his practices and take immediate action to prevent fraud and hold people accountable”.
Newsom said it has ordered the Office of Emergency Services to set up a task force to help prosecutors investigate.
“While we’ve made improvements, we need to do more,” Newsom said.
This story was corrected by the fact that Cary Stayner killed four people in or near Yosemite National Park; Out of 35,000 damages, 20,000 payments were visible; and accurately write the last name of the convicted killer, Wesley Shermantine.