Texas woman pleads guilty in Missouri court to illegally claiming over $550,000 in unemployment benefits

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Missouri – Prayshana Washington, a 37-year-old woman from Houston, Texas, has admitted to fraudulently obtaining unemployment benefits by using the identities of numerous individuals. Her guilty plea was entered in a federal court before U.S. Chief District Judge Beth Phillips.

Details of the Fraudulent Scheme

Washington’s guilty plea on Thursday, May 23, to one count of theft of government property marked a crucial point in the case. By admitting to the charges, Washington acknowledged her role in orchestrating a scheme to file false claims for unemployment benefits. These fraudulent activities were conducted not only in her name but also using the personal information of others, without their eligibility for such claims.

The fraudulent claims included those filed for regular unemployment benefits in Missouri and additionally for enhanced benefits under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Notably, the CARES Act was designed to provide extended unemployment benefits to help those impacted by the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, including an emergency increase of $600 weekly.

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Extent of the Fraud and Legal legal consequences

The period of fraudulent activity stretched from May 2020 to June 2021, during which Washington succeeded in illegally extracting between $550,000 and $1.5 million from the unemployment benefits system. As part of her plea agreement, she has agreed to pay restitution, the amount of which will be determined by the court.

Under federal statutes, Washington faces a possible sentence of up to 10 years in federal prison without parole. The maximum statutory sentence is a directive from Congress, intended to serve as a guideline. However, the actual sentence will be determined based on advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors. The date for the sentencing hearing will be set following a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office.

Ongoing Legal Proceedings

The case against Washington is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul S. Becker. Investigations were led by the Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General, and the Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General – Office of Investigations & Labor Racketeering Fraud. This case highlights the ongoing efforts of federal agencies to clamp down on fraudulent activities exploiting governmental aid programs designed to assist legitimate beneficiaries during times of crisis.

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