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Former USC football player arrested for alleged role in COVID fraud scheme

USC linebacker Abdul-Malik McClain sits on the bench during a 2018 game against Texas.
USC linebacker Abdul-Malik McClain sits on the bench during a game against Texas on Sept. 15, 2018, in Austin, Texas.
(Eric Gay / Associated Press)
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Abdul-Malik McClain, a former football player who left USC amid a federal probe into his brother, was arrested Monday on federal fraud and identity theft charges for allegedly orchestrating a scheme to claim nearly a million dollars in fraudulent COVID-related unemployment benefits, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

McClain, who’s now enrolled at Jackson State, is charged with 10 counts of mail fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft for his alleged role in organizing and assisting a group of football players last summer in filing fraudulent claims under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistant program, which was established during the pandemic to provide aid to those who didn’t qualify for normal unemployment benefits.

The indictment, filed on Dec. 16, alleges that McClain and his “co-schemers” helped a group of football players file claims that contained false information about their prior employment status, their future plans of employment and their presumed job loss due to the pandemic, with the intent of defrauding California’s Employment Development Department.

The indictment does not specify a school, referring only to a “University 1” that is cooperating in the investigation. McClain was enrolled at USC during the time that the U.S. Attorney’s Office alleged the scheme took place (July 2020 to at least September of that year).

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Receiver Munir McClain, who got money from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, was suspended and his family says they weren’t given an answer as to why.

Approximately 36 fraudulent claims were made for PUA benefits, according to the indictment. Those applications, which were filed in their own names, in the names of friends and teammates, and in the names of others whose identities were stolen as part of the scheme, resulted in EDD authorizing Bank of America to mail debit cards to McClain and other football players that sought more than $900,000, but ultimately totaled losses of at least $227,736.

In some cases, according to the indictment, McClain sought and received a cut for helping others file claims.

McClain pleaded not guilty to the charges and was released on a $20,000 bond. He was arraigned Monday and will stand trial Feb. 15. Requests for comment from his attorney, Alex Kessel, were not immediately returned.

“When the university learned of this matter in September 2020, we notified law enforcement and have been fully cooperating with authorities,” a USC spokesperson said in a statement Monday night. “We are unable to provide additional information because this is a pending criminal matter.”

The linebacker entered the transfer portal after his family’s relationship with USC and coach Clay Helton soured. His brother, Munir, has yet to enter the portal.

McClain transferred from USC in November 2020 after his brother, Munir, was suspended from USC’s football team in September 2020 following a complaint that was filed about USC students being approached with a plan to apply for EDD benefits. Abdul-Malik McClain was never suspended, but the McClain family confirmed to The Times in October 2020 that Abdul-Malik received benefits from the PUA program.

Multiple USC football players were approached at the time at their campus residences inquiring about Munir McClain. Some were given subpoenas to appear in front of a grand jury as part of “an official criminal investigation being conducted by the Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General.” At the time, federal investigators went to the two brothers’ dorm room in an attempt to speak with Abdul-Malik.

The McClain family was resolute then that neither Munir nor Abdul-Malik had done anything wrong. Munir McClain told The Times that he applied for PUA after his side hustle selling high-end sneakers had dried up during the pandemic. McClain also told The Times that he listed athletic training as part of his application, and that he planned to invest the money in an apparel brand that he’d started with his siblings.

In the indictment, Abdul-Malik McClain and his “co-schemers” are alleged to have falsely represented some claimants as athletic trainers, tutors or otherwise self-employed, despite the fact that said claimants were not self-employed.

Neither Munir McClain, who since transferred to Utah, nor any other football player is named in the indictment. The indictment lists only the initials of 10 people who were mailed debit cards from EDD, two of which went to an address on Jefferson Boulevard and eight of which went to an address on Lincoln Boulevard.

The indictment on former USC football player Abdul-Malik McClain.


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