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Woman who stole nearly $300K in pandemic benefits gets federal prison time

A wooden judge gavel and soundboard isolated on white background. (Photo by Oana Malaeru / 500px / Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A woman busted for operating a scheme to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from pandemic benefits has been sentenced to federal prison.

On Monday, the Department of Justice announced Brianna Yerkey, 21, will spend six months in jail for wire fraud that targeted the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

The Ohio woman pleaded guilty to charges related to a ploy she created using social media to advertise filing assistance for people who submitted Pandemic Unemployment Assistance applications.

According to the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, Yerkey intentionally defrauded the federal government and the Indiana agency between February 2021 and June 2021.

Prosecutors said Yerkey offered to file applications as well as submit weekly PUA vouchers while charging between $500 and $1,300. The release from the DOJ details that the defendant instructed people to provide login information to Workforce Development accounts through which she provided fake residential information.

Yerkey also gave false information related to her clients’ unemployment status and its connection to the Covid-19 pandemic in order to collect benefits they were not entitled to receive.

Investigators said Yerkey then tried concealing her crimes by applying for assistance as if individuals were college students in Indiana. By using university addresses and employment dates aligning with summer break on campuses, Yerkey attempted to go unsuspected by the Department of Workforce Development when applicants provided out of state driver’s licenses for proof of identity.

“Pandemic Unemployment Assistance under the CARES Act was a lifeline for thousands of Americans suffering economic disaster directly related to COVID-19,” U.S. Attorney Zachary Myers said in a Monday release. “Ms. Yerkey exploited a federal program, stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars intended to help our most vulnerable populations in a time of instability. These selfish, greedy actions must be rectified. I am grateful for the work of the FBI that led to today’s sentence.”

An FBI investigation determined Yerkey submitted fraudulent claims totaling $287,311 in unemployment benefits.

“People in desperate need turned to the defendant for help, and she pocketed that money,” FBI Indianapolis Special Agent in Charge Herbert Stapleton said. “The FBI and our partners won’t idly sit by and let schemes like this occur but will relentlessly pursue those who fraudulently profit at the expense of others.”

A U.S. District Court also sentenced Yerkey to a year of probation following release and an order to pay $125,271 in restitution.

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