Perris criminals sentenced to more than five years for $4 million COVID relief scheme – Press Enterprise

RIVERSIDE — A convicted Perris felon who made fraudulent claims to receive over $4 million in aid payments intended for those left unemployed during the coronavirus public health lockdown was found dead on Sept Sentenced Friday to five years and three months in federal prison.

Gabriela Llerenas, also known as Maria Sandoval, 49, entered into a plea agreement with US attorneys in September in which she admitted to a single count of mail fraud. US District Judge John Holcomb in Riverside imposed the sentence determined by the prosecution and defense.

According to prosecutors, from April to October 2020, Llerenas took advantage of expanded eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security – CARES – Act signed by then-President Donald Trump in March 2020.

The defendant filed nearly 200 fraudulent requests for assistance in order to receive unemployment benefits, resulting in a total of $4,298,093 in unemployment insurance payments, U.S. attorneys said. Holcomb ordered full repayment to the government.

Llerena’s plan resulted in the California Employment Development Department authorizing Bank of America to mail debit cards to applicants with addresses provided by the defendant, including her own home in Perris, her husband’s place of work, her mother’s home, and the addresses of friends and other family members according to court records.

“Llerenas charged named applicants a fee for completing the applications, often paid out of fraudulently obtained benefits,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement. “In at least one instance, she informed the named plaintiff that she was still employed by EDD and could control the payment of unemployment insurance benefits, and then requested back payment for the ‘release’ of the benefits.”

CARES funding was made available to a variety of individuals, including those identifying as independent contractors and self-employed, and the defendant took advantage of this component by falsely classifying the wrong applicants into those categories, according to the government.

Llerenas obtained some of the names, social security numbers and other identifying information she used to file the fraudulent claims through her previous work as an accountant, prosecutors said. According to prosecutors, a total of 197 debit cards were sent with cash available to the defendant from the US Treasury Department.

In her plea agreement, Llerenas admitted that on some of the filings, Llerenas falsely stated that the plaintiffs were California residents eligible for unemployment insurance benefits administered by EDD, when in fact they lived elsewhere. She also admitted that she inflated the earnings she reported to claimants to maximize benefits.

The scheme was uncovered in the first half of 2021 as part of a multi-agency investigation by the US Department of Justice’s COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force.

Llerenas worked at the EDD as a disability insurance program representative, but resigned in March 2002 after admitting that she had signed the disability payments for her own benefit. She was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison for the fraud.

State auditors have estimated at least $20 billion in losses from fraudulent claims for CARES unemployment benefit funding, with the money going to parties outside of California, prisoners and inmates.

Investigations are ongoing across the country, and several cases await decision in Riverside County.

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