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Virginia inmate pleads guilty to pandemic benefits scheme

NORFOLK (AP) A Virginia inmate has pleaded guilty to part in a scheme to obtain pandemic-related unemployment benefits by using personal identifying information of over 30 other prison inmates, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

Citing court documents in a news release, acting Virginia U.S. Attorney Raj Parekh says that in 2020, Michael Lee Lewis Jr., 41, of Chesapeake, worked with Mary Landon Benton, 38, of Portsmouth, and Angelica Cartwright-Powers, 35, of Norfolk to collect the personally identifiable information of other inmates to fraudulently apply for Virginia unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The news release said Lewis provided Benton and Cartwright-Powers information for inmates at the Augusta Correctional Center, leading to approximately 2,100 successful unemployment claims for inmates there. Together, the three submitted successful applications Virginia unemployment benefit applications for 35 inmates.

Lewis and his co-conspirators, along with the prisoners whose information was used for the applications, shared proceeds totaling more than $330,000, the news release said. Although the conspirators initially got $436,834, the Virginia Employment Commission was able to reclaim some of the funds after discovering the fraud.

Benton and Cartwright-Powers have since pleaded guilty to their respective roles in the conspiracy. Lewis pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud and is scheduled to be sentenced on December 2. He faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.

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