A longtime Michigan unemployment worker helps two friends who stole $1.6 million with 123 false claims

long time Michigan unemployment A worker helped two of her friends who filed more than 123 false claims to steal $1.6 million in benefits, officials said.

Scheme details

A criminal complaint filed Wednesday (May 18) said that between March 2020 and June 2021, Keanya Mitchell, 32, of Romulus, and Angela Johnson, 47, of Detroit, operated a scheme to provide and/or access more than 123 unemployment assistance Epidemiological claims. The couple stole about $1.6 million in federal funds earmarked for PUA and UIA benefit payments, according to authorities.

Officials said Antonia Brown, a Michigan State employee since 2002, was working as an unemployment insurance examiner at the time. She was assigned to the Benefits Payments Controller and was responsible for reviewing, approving, and making decisions on PUA and UIA claims.

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Records show Brown, 47, of Detroit, had access to about 110 of the claims made by Mitchell and Johnson. It altered or authorized payment for 101 of them, according to the criminal complaint.

Investigators found that “Brown had no legitimate reason to access or modify the claims of the subject, let alone approve them, which indicates that Brown used her position as an employee to improperly access and release payments related to the claims linked to Mitchell and Johnson IP addresses.”

Michigan’s UIA uses software that flags certain claims for review when it becomes aware of possible fraud, pay discrepancies, or someone filing multiple claims. Officials said flags were placed on 101 claims filed by Mitchell and Johnson, but that Brown removed those flags to release the payments.

Brown was friends with Mitchell and Johnson, and they regularly spoke out about fraudulent allegations, court records say.

Officials said Johnson and Mitchell have admitted receiving money from third parties to help them with their claims. Authorities said they also admitted paying Brown to help her.

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A review of CashApp records revealed that the three received multiple payments from multiple people, including direct payments from Mitchell and Johnson to Brown, the criminal complaint said.

Investigation

Agents investigating the case have traced IP addresses linked to the fraudulent claims to two homes – one on Cherokee Drive in Romulus and the other on Ilene Street in Detroit. They said that both appeared to be single-family homes without reason to file dozens of unemployment claims.

While reviewing the allegations, investigators found a common link between the two IP addresses. The records showed that a specific employee in Michigan, identified as Brown, accessed, amended and approved 101 of the claims, according to the criminal complaint.

Officials examined Brown’s work activity and confirmed that she was not authorized to access or agree to any of the allegations in question, they said. Authorities said they have also removed several fraud stops that were placed in the claims.

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Court records show that Michigan’s state of Michigan call center phone system never contacted any of the numbers listed in the 101 claims. Investigators said this meant she circumvented the process required to conspire with the other two women.

Brown’s actions resulted in more than $1,661,821.94 being paid in PUA and UIA lawsuits, according to the complaint.

Mitchell’s allegations

Records show that the IP address traced to Mitchell’s home in Romulus was accessed via 55 unique PUA and UIA claims. Authorities said more than $700,000 were paid for these claims.

Brown accessed and modified most of the claims linked to Mitchell’s IP address, resulting in a payment of approximately $710,489.13, according to officials.

The criminal complaint states that Brown changed his March 2020 claim to Mitchell’s name nine times between September 2020 and February 2021.

Court records show that in one case, Brown ignored a fraud investigation drawn up in the lawsuit.

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Investigators determined that Brown “improperly ignored his employer’s protest alleging that Mitchell was not entitled to PUA benefits.”

Mitchell’s claim has not been assigned to Brown, and there is no official record of contact between the two women, according to authorities. But T-Mobile records for Brown’s personal mobile phone confirm she was in direct contact with Mitchell from July 2020 through August 18, 2021, officials said.

Johnson’s allegations

Records show that an IP address traced to Johnson’s home in Detroit was accessed in 51 unique PUA and UIA claims. Authorities said more than $900,000 were paid for these claims.

Johnson’s phone number was used to create MiLogin accounts for 12 claims, according to the criminal complaint.

Court records showed that Brown reached and/or approved at least 46 of the 51 claims, resulting in a payment of approximately $951,332.81.

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Federal officials executed search warrants related to the case on September 29, 2021. The three women were interviewed.

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Mitchell admitted accessing more than 55 PUA and UIA claims from her home to her friends, family members and partners, according to the criminal complaint. She said she spoke with Brown and obtained inside information about the allegations.

Court records show that Mitchell told officials that she obtained the username and password for each claim before accessing their accounts from her computer. In most cases, authorities said, they uploaded the information on their behalf.

Mitchell said she discussed most of the claims with Brown and admitted receiving payments from everyone she helped, according to officials. She also said she paid Brown via CashApp a “thank you” for her help, the complaint says.

Johnson has admitted helping at least 15-20 people with the PUA and UIA claims, with Brown helping, according to authorities. Johnson said, according to court records, that Brown will remove fraud warrants in some of the claims.

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Johnson said she received money from the claimants she helped and admitted paying Brown via CashApp in exchange for her help, officials said.

During Brown’s interview, she confirmed that Mitchell and Johnson were her friends and admitted talking to them about some of the allegations in question, the criminal complaint said.

Brown said she received payments from both women via CashApp for their assistance with PUA and UIA claims, but said those payments were unrelated to her assistance with those claims, according to officials.

Authorities said Brown admitted receiving direct payments from some of the claimants themselves.

CashApp records show that during the time frame of this scheme, Brown received a total of $50,500.09 in payments, including $5,075 from Johnson and $2,325 from Mitchell.

In the same time period, Mitchell received $108,860.91 in CashApp payments, and Johnson received $54537.50 in CashApp payments, court records show.

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The criminal complaint says there is probable cause to charge Brown, Mitchell and Johnson with mail fraud, electronic fraud, conspiracy to commit mail fraud, electronic fraud and fraud in connection with programs receiving federal funds.

Copyright 2022 by WDIV ClickOnDetroit – All rights reserved.

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