Tens of thousands of prison and prison residents, including convicted serial killers and infamous detainees like Scott Peterson, executed what prosecutors on Tuesday described as the largest fraud system in California’s history.
Alleged crimes that focus on epidemic unemployment benefits could cost a total of $ 1 billion, said Anne Marie Schubert, the Sacramento District Attorney.
“The fraud is genuinely shocking,” she said.
Between March and August, Schubert said all inmates in California prisons and in state-wide prisons filed 35,000 lawsuits, for a total of $ 140 million in benefits.
Sometimes these benefits were paid directly to inmates in the facility, he said. In other cases, the money was sent to relatives and friends outside and out of jails.
In Kern County, district attorney Cynthia Zimmer said investigators were alerted to the system in September after a number of remittances were received to detainees.
Sometimes benefits included fake social security numbers and names like John Doe, John Adams or in one case “poopy britches,” Schubert said.
“Honestly, the inmates are making fun of us,” he said.
In other cases, they were claimed by real names. Among them were 133 of the state’s 700 death row inmates, including convicted criminals like Cary Stayner, who murdered four people in 1999 near Yosemite National Park; Susan Eubanks, who murdered her four sons in 1996; and Peterson, who killed his wife and unborn son in 2002.
Earlier this year, Peterson’s capital sentence was overturned after the state’s Supreme Court ruled that “significant errors” had been made in selecting the jury during his trial. Prosecutors said they would repeatedly ask for the death penalty in the case.
Asked how much fraud was associated with Peterson’s claim, another prosecutor in Schubert’s office said “we know the number” but refused to give it, citing an ongoing investigation.
Peterson’s attorney, Pat Harris, did not respond immediately to the request for comment on Tuesday, but told the Associated Press that investigators find that “he had nothing to do with any system to obtain fraudulent benefits.”
Schubert said $ 420,000 was paid to those sentenced to death.
He said the fraud could be perpetrated because, unlike 35 other states, California does not have a system that “compares” prison and prison data to unemployment claims.
Loree Levy, the deputy director of the state’s Department of Economic Development, said in a statement that “in unprecedented periods of pandemic-related unemployment fraud across these countries, it seeks to integrate such cross-matches as part of increased prevention efforts. “
The department did not wish to comment on the specific needs, citing confidentiality requirements.
California Governor Gavin Newsom called the fraud “absolutely unacceptable” in a statement to NBC Los Angeles and said he had instructed emergency services officials to set up a task force to help deal with the problem.