Theft Involving Over $500,000 in COVID-19 Unemployment Relief
The feds arrested Cara Marie Kirk-Connell, 32, of Menifee in Riverside County woman on charges that she defrauded California's unemployment insurance system by using stolen personal information obtained from the darknet to fraudulently receive more than a half-million dollars in COVID-19 unemployment benefits. The feds allege thaton September 11, Murrieta police conducted a traffic stop of Kirk-Connell. During a search of her car, the police found eight debit cards that contained unemployment benefits in other people's names, $30,000 in cash and several driver's licenses for other motorists. During a police interview, Kirk-Connell allegedly admitted that she and others would go onto the “dark web” to gather identifying information of other individuals.
Kirk-Connell then used this information to apply for unemployment benefits from the California Employment Development Department, which distributes the benefits under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, passed by Congress in March. The CARES Act expanded unemployment benefits to cover those who were previously ineligible, including business owners, self-employed workers, and independent contractors, who were put out of business or significantly reduced their services because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kirk-Connell also admitted that once she had applied for those benefits in other people's names, she would have the debit cards sent to an address where she would receive them. Once she received the debit cards, she said, she would activate them by using the victims' Social Security numbers as well as PINs she had chosen, and then make numerous ATM withdrawals and other expenditures, according to the affidavit.
EDD records showed that the cards and identities that Kirk-Connell possessed had been used to apply for and authorize approximately $534,149 in COVID-related unemployment benefits from California's EDD program, of which nearly $270,000 had already been spent, the affidavit states. Further, EDD records showed that some of the individual cards had more than $17,000 loaded on them when issued, according to the affidavit.
A complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
If convicted of these charges, Kirk-Connell would face a statutory maximum sentence of 32 years in federal prison.
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