DETROIT – At a time when thousands of Michiganders are struggling to secure unemployment benefits due to the COVID-19 pandemic, three people from Metro Detroit are accused of cashing in on nearly 100 fraudulent claims in two separate schemes.
In the first scheme, Mitchacole Johnson, 44, of Shelby Township, and Larry Witherspoon, 45, of Harper Woods, have been charged with mail fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.
Johnson and Witherspoon were arrested Thursday (Jan. 28), officials said.
Federal officials said the two filed at least 66 fraudulent Michigan unemployment insurance benefits claims, causing a loss of more than $150,000.
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“These funds should have gone to Michiganders who need help getting through this difficult time,” U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said. “As I have said before, those who steal unemployment benefits steal from all of us. These arrests reflect our ongoing commitment to investigating these schemes and bringing the people who commit these crimes to justice,” stated United States Attorney Schneider.
They also filed dozens of complaints in other states, including California, Arizona and Nevada, authorities said. Those filings caused additional losses of more than $300,000, according to officials.
Johnson is accused of filing claims in her own name.
Witherspoon is accused of filing multiple claims with the names similar to his own, such as “Lawrence Witherspoon.”
Both Johnson and Witherspoon filed their claims using other people’s Social Security numbers, according to authorities.
Court records show they had the fraudulent benefits deposited into a variety of bank accounts, including some connected to prepaid debit cards.
Jordan Armstrong, 28, of Detroit, has been charged in a separate scheme. Armstrong is facing charges of wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and fraud in connection with access devices, officials said.
He was arrested Jan. 20.
Officials said Armstrong has filed fraudulent applications for unemployment insurance benefits on behalf of people in Michigan, California and Pennsylvania.
“Unemployment benefits are intended to support individuals and families who are in crisis due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Timothy Waters, special agent in charge of the FBI in Michigan. “Fraud against the unemployment benefit insurance program has become increasingly prevalent during the pandemic.”
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He is accused of using other people’s Social Security numbers without their permission.
During the application process, Armstrong would request the benefits be paid out via debit card, authorities said. He had them mailed to various Michigan addresses that were under his control, according to court records.
Armstrong used the cards to repeatedly withdraw funds at ATM machines, and by October 2020, he was making daily high-dollar cash withdrawals using at least 12 separate debit cards, officials said.
He is responsible for as many as 29 fraudulent claims in Michigan and at least 19 more in other states, according to authorities.
The total value of the benefits stolen by Armstrong is more than $180,000, federal officials said.
“We thank the U.S. Attorney’s office for their continued efforts to protect workers and the state’s unemployment system,” acting Michigan UIA Director Liza Estlund Olson said. “The UIA remains committed to working closely with all of our federal and state partners on the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Fraud Task Force to bring unemployment fraud cases to justice.”
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