PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — We’re one year into the coronavirus pandemic and people are still struggling to secure unemployment benefits.
At the same time, prosecutors say fraud is widespread.READ MORE: COVID-19 In Pennsylvania: State Health Department Reports 4,577 New Coronavirus Cases, 77 More Deaths
KDKA first broke the news about jail inmates filing for unemployment benefits in August, but charges have also been filed against people allegedly acting as accomplices. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Pittsburgh told KDKA Meghan Schiller that pandemic fraud is a definite problem in our area.
“I think it’s important to get this word out now because, as I think you know, Congress is considering extending the federal unemployment assistance,” said Stephen Kaufman, the acting U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
The decision on that extension of benefits could come March 14, and Kaufman told KDKA’s Meghan Schiller that more money could mean more fraud
“We’ve indicted 43 people so far as being a part of these schemes,” said Kaufman.
Just this week, his office filed a charge against a local woman named Asia DeVaughn. She’s accused of filing for pandemic benefits on behalf of a jail inmate.
DeVaughn’s defense attorney, Mark Sindler, said she collected thousands of dollars, described “in the low teens,” but said she paid the money back and was “very contrite.”READ MORE: COVID-19 In Pittsburgh: Allegheny Co. Health Dept. Reports 389 New Coronavirus Cases, Increasing County Total To 94,501
Kaufman couldn’t speak to any specific case but said it’s one of many.
“We’re still investigating many cases. And so it’s a relatively widespread thing. It’s involved inmates in a number of different institutions,” said Kaufman.
It’s hard news for small business owner LeeAnn Dale to hear.
“We’re going day by day,” said Dale.
She’s the co-owner of RNL Vacuum LLC, a commercial and residential roof vacuuming business with four employees. She filed for unemployment compensation benefits, got kicked off the UC benefits, filed for PUA benefits, and later learned after finding a note in her file:
“They said you should be on employment compensation, not PUA, and that’s what I did. I was just like you’re kidding me,” Dale said.
She said she’s still waiting for an answer after re-applying for PUA. She feels like she’s getting “the run around” and has not received the money she believes she’s owed.MORE NEWS: Allegheny Health Network Holding Mass COVID-19 Vaccination Clinic At Pittsburgh Mills Mall
“Fraud is out there but for the people that are trying to do what’s right, it’s not fair,” she said.