Detroit man pleads guilty in unemployment fraud scheme


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Date: July 6, 2021


DETROIT — A Detroit man pleaded guilty today for his role in a scheme aimed at defrauding the State of Michigan, other states, and the U.S. Government of funds earmarked for unemployment assistance during the COVID19 pandemic, announced Acting United States Attorney Saima Mohsin.

Joining in the announcement were Acting Special Agent in Charge Brian Thomas, Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, Irene Lindow, Special Agent-in-Charge, Chicago Region, U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, Special Agent in Charge Douglas J. Zloto, US Secret Service, Acting Special Agent in Charge Juan Vargas, US Postal Inspection Service, Special Agent in Charge Timothy Waters, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Liza Estlund Olson, acting director of the Unemployment Insurance Agency.

Pleading guilty was Johnny Richardson, 26.

According to court records, Richardson conspired with others including Brandi Hawkins—a former contract employee for the State of Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency who pleaded guilty last month—to fraudulently obtain hundreds of thousands of government money that was intended to support individuals who lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the plea agreement, Richardson, either himself or through others, filed fraudulent unemployment claims over the Internet in at least five states resulting in the fraudulent disbursement of at least $683,555 of funds intended for unemployment assistance during the pandemic. Richardson provided Hawkins information on Michigan claims, and Hawkins subsequently used her insider access to fraudulently release payments on these claims.

Richardson is scheduled to be sentenced on November 9, 2021 at 11 am before United States District Judge Bernard A. Friedman. Co-defendant Micahia Taylor is scheduled for a plea hearing on August 10, 2021 at 11:30am.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Timothy Wyse. The investigation is being conducted jointly by the Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, United States Secret Service, Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation, Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Unemployment Insurance Agency, Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity

On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to marshal the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with agencies across government to enhance efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud. The Task Force bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud by, among other methods, augmenting and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their schemes, and sharing and harnessing information and insights gained from prior enforcement efforts.