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Fresno Man, Inmate Plead Guilty to COVID Unemployment Fraud



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Jason Vertz, 51, of Fresno, and Alana Powers, 45, an inmate at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, pleaded guilty on Monday morning to charges stemming from a COVID-19 unemployment fraud investigation.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a news release that the fraud totaled $103,000. State Auditor Elaine Howle said in January that California has paid at least $810 million in fraudulent benefits to prison inmates, more than double the amount previously thought.

In addition,  California lawmakers last week advanced a bill requiring EDD and the state prison system to share information aimed at helping stop billions of dollars in pandemic-related unemployment fraud.

At least 35 other states were cross-matching unemployment claims against state prisoners as of 2016, and 28 states were checking claims against county jail inmates, the audit noted.

How the Scam Worked

According to court documents, Vertz and Powers submitted fraudulent unemployment insurance claims in the names of Powers and other inmates. Recorded jail calls and emails showed that Powers and other inmates provided names, birth dates, and social security numbers to Vertz for those claims. EDD then loaded benefits onto debit cards mailed to the addresses the defendants provided.

On those claims, the inmates stated they had worked as maids, cleaners, fabrication welders, and other occupations, and were available to work. That, of course, wasn’t true because they were imprisoned.

Vertz and Powers are scheduled for sentencing in Fresno federal court on July 6. They face up to 20 years in prison and $250,000 fines.

The FBI, state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the EDD conducted the investigation.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alexandre Dempsey and Joseph Barton are prosecuting the case.

Bill McEwen is news director and columnist for GV Wire. He joined GV Wire in August 2017 after 37 years at The Fresno Bee. With The Bee, he served as Opinion Editor, City Hall reporter, Metro columnist, sports columnist and sports editor through the years. His work has been frequently honored by the California Newspapers Publishers Association, including authoring first-place editorials in 2015 and 2016. Bill and his wife, Karen, are proud parents of two adult sons, and they have two grandsons. You can contact Bill at 559-492-4031 or at Send an Email

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