Two postal workers charged with COVID-19 unemployment fraud
Two U.S. Postal Service window clerks were arrested Wednesday on charges that they misused their positions to secure about $200,000 in pandemic unemployment benefits in a scam using debit cards obtained from the state with stolen identities.
Christian Jeremyah James of Los Angeles and Armand Caleb Legardy of Inglewood are accused of using 10 debit cards issued in other people’s names by the California Employment Development Department. The Bank of America cards were obtained from the state by unnamed people who filed phony claims of joblessness stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, authorities said.
The arrests of James, 31, and Legardy, 32, are the latest sign of California’s failure to screen out fraudulent claims as it has paid out more than $120 billion in unemployment assistance in the year since the COVID-19 pandemic devastated the state’s economy.
The state estimates that it paid at least $11.4 billion in fraudulent benefits, including hundreds of millions in claims improperly filed in the names of prison inmates.
James, a clerk at Culver City’s main post office, and Legardy, who worked at the La Tijera post office in Los Angeles, used their positions to buy and cash postal money orders with the fraudulently obtained debit cards, according to Ana Ptaszek, an agent with the Postal Service’s inspector general’s office.
In addition to the confirmed fraud, the state has stopped tens of billions of dollars in payments on bogus claims through tougher security measures, officials said.
In a U.S. District Court complaint unsealed Wednesday, Ptasek said she was tipped off to the case in September by the Culver City postmaster, who reported that James showed up at the post office on his day off to buy two $1,000 postal money orders with one of the debit cards.
One of the money orders wound up in the bank account of Legardy, sparking suspicion that the pair might be working together, she said. Further investigation revealed that both were using state unemployment debit cards to withdraw cash from ATM machines and buy postal money orders.
They were each charged with conspiracy, aggravated identity theft and two counts of fraud.
“These appear to be very serious charges against a young man who has never before been in trouble with the law,” Legardy’s attorney, Charles Brown, said. “He is presumed innocent and I will do all that I can to help him navigate a federal system that at times can fill even the strongest hearts with dread.”
James’ attorney, Neha Christerna, declined to comment.
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