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Ex-USC football player agrees to plea bargain in fraudulent COVID benefits case

Former USC football player Abdul-Malik McClain gestures at a game in 2019.
Former USC football player Abdul-Malik McClain was arrested in 2021 and charged with 10 counts of mail fraud and two counts of identity theft for allegedly filing fraudulent claims on behalf of USC football players under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.
(Shotgun Spratling / For The Times)
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Former USC football player Abdul-Malik McClain has agreed to a plea bargain for his role in allegedly orchestrating a scheme from July 2020 to September 2020 that sought to claim more than $1 million in fraudulent COVID-related unemployment benefits from California’s Employment Development Department.

McClain, according to a copy of the plea agreement obtained by The Times, will plead guilty to one count of felony mail fraud.

McClain, who played at USC from 2018-2020, was arrested in December 2021 and charged with 10 counts of mail fraud and two counts of identity theft for allegedly filing fraudulent claims on behalf of USC football players under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which was established during the pandemic to provide aid to those who didn’t qualify for standard unemployment benefits.

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Former USC linebacker Abdul-Malik McClain was arrested on federal fraud and identity theft charges in a COVID-related scheme that extended to other football players.

Dec. 20, 2021

At the time, McClain pleaded not guilty and was released on $20,000 bond. But a month before his trial, McClain agreed to a plea bargain, with a hearing set for June 17. As part of his plea, McClain must pay restitution and could face significant jail time. The maximum statutory sentence for felony mail fraud is 20 years, but federal sentencing guidelines suggest between 70 and 87 months in prison.

The original indictment cited 36 fraudulent claims for PUA benefits which McClain filed or assisted in filing that were made in the names of teammates, friends and others whose identities were stolen as part of the scheme. As part of his plea agreement, McClain admitted to his role as “a leader or organizer” of the scheme, which used claimants’ names and Social Security numbers to knowingly file PUA claims that contained false employment information, all with the intent of fraudulently obtaining debit cards from Bank of America.

Some of those debit cards were sent to addresses where McClain had direct access. In other cases, McClain received direct payment from those who received the debit card from EDD.

McClain and his co-schemers, none of whom were identified in the original indictment or plea agreement, sought $1,056,092 in benefits from EDD as part of the scheme, but ultimately received about $283,063.

California’s massive budget deficit, coupled with the state’s relatively high level of joblessness, has become a major barrier to reducing the billions of dollars of debt it has incurred to pay unemployment benefits.

April 18, 2024

McClain left USC in November 2020 after his brother, Munir, was suspended indefinitely from USC’s football team in September 2020 amid complaints that USC football players were being approached with a plan to apply for EDD benefits. Abdul-Malik McClain was never suspended.

Both Munir and Abdul-Malik McClain confirmed to The Times in October 2020 that they received benefits from the PUA program. That fall, multiple USC football players were approached at their campus residences about the scheme. Some were given subpoenas to appear in front of a grand jury.

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At the time, over several interviews with The Times, the McClain family remained resolute that neither of the brothers had done anything wrong.

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