Eight people have been charged with conspiring to defraud the Georgia Department of Labor (GaDOL) out of tens of millions of dollars in unemployment benefits.
Among the defendants are Vienna, Georgia residents Tyshion Nautese Hicks, 30, Macovian Doston, 29, and Membrish Brown, 27. Also accused are Warner Robins, Georgia residents Shatara Hubbard, 34, and A’Darrion Alexander, 27, as well as Cordele residents Torella Wynn, 30, and Kenya Whitehead, 35.
The eighth alleged conspirator is Edith Nate Hicks, 45, of Atlanta, Georgia. As an employee of an Atlanta-area health care network, she was allegedly paid by the others to obtain hundreds of patients’ personally identifiable information (PII) from hospital databases.
The conspirators then allegedly filed unemployment insurance claims on the GaDOL website in the names of their identity theft victims, adding fictitious employers for each fake claimant.
Presumably in a bid to hide the money trail, they asked the funds to be paid via prepaid debit cards mailed to addresses mainly in the Cordele and Vienna area, according to the Department of Justice (DoJ). Edith Nate Hicks was allegedly paid via Chime, Venmo and CashApp after accessing the PII of an estimated 1600 Atlanta-area patients.
She has already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and faces a maximum term of 20 years behind bars.
Tyshion Nautese Hicks, Hubbard, Wynn, Doston, Whitehead, Alexander and Brown are each charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud, which also carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
Tyshion Nautese Hicks and Doston are also charged with aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory two-year prison sentence, while Alexander faces an additional charge of money laundering, which carries a maximum of 20 years in prison.
The conspiracy is said to have resulted in at least $30m of stolen benefits designed to help the unemployed during the pandemic. The case highlights not only the persistent threat of fraud facing government organizations, but also the risks linked to malicious insiders.
Malicious intent accounted for a quarter (26%) of insider-related incidents last year at an average cost of $648,000 to remediate, according to Proofpoint.
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