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Man bought Maserati with unemployment money scammed from state EDD, prosecutors say

Scammers  fraudulently obtained millions intended to benefit the unemployed
A network of scammers fraudulently obtained millions of dollars intended to benefit people made jobless by the coronavirus shutdown.
(Mike Groll / Associated Press)

When Pasadena police pulled over Robert Sloan Mateer behind the wheel of a slick Maserati SUV, they found $197,711 in cash, methamphetamine and a loaded gun without a serial number. They also found 17 unemployment benefit debit cards loaded with tens of thousands of more dollars in various names.

The stack of cards carried more than $133,000 for unemployment benefits, issued by California’s Employment Development Department under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act passed by Congress in March, according to a five-count federal indictment against Mateer unsealed last month. Many of those cards were in the names of victims of identity theft, according to federal prosecutors.

That Maserati was purchased with some of the unemployment insurance benefits the 30-year-old Pasadena man fraudulently obtained by using stolen identities, the indictment alleges.

Much of the unemployment benefits sent outside of California may be based on fraudulent claims, several prosecutors warned Thursday, in the latest flap involving the state EDD.

Mateer is allegedly one of the hundreds behind a billion-dollar-plus fraud that has unfolded this year involving EDD, according to state and federal prosecutors. Some of those involved in the scheme are already inmates in state prisons and claims were filed in the names of more 130 Death Row inmates. Bank of America, which handles the cards, has warned that fraud in California’s unemployment benefits system could total $2 billion.

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McGregor Scott, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California, whose office investigated the prison fraud for months, said the problem may be even greater, with preliminary federal findings that “billions of dollars were sent out of the state and out of the country by EDD.”

Mateer on Friday appeared in a Los Angeles federal court on charges of possessing at least 15 or more unauthorized access devices with the intent to defraud, aggravated identity theft, possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, and being a felon in possession of ammunition. Along with the cards, police found more than 85 grams of methamphetamine in the luxury SUV, according to court documents.

Mateer’s attorney could not be reached for comment.

According to the investigator’s affidavit, Mateer admitted to obtaining the unemployment benefits debit cards by using “thousands” of identity profiles in his possession. Each debit card was loaded with about $14,500.

Inmates, including some on death row, are receiving unemployment benefits in what D.A.s call ‘the most significant fraud on taxpayer funds in California history.’

That money was intended to be distributed by the EDD under the CARES Act, which 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.

Mateer allegedly admitted to investigators that he withdrew the $197,711 in cash found in his Maserati from ATMs across the Los Angeles area, according to the affidavit by postal inspectors, who investigated the case.

It was the second time he made such withdrawals. Mateer allegedly withdrew about $13,840 from the EDD debit cards in his possession in September, according to the affidavit.

Mateer, a felon, was taken into federal custody on Oct. 21. He could face up to 17 years to life in prison if convicted of all charges.


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