4 people indicted for fraudulently obtaining pandemic unemployment benefits for Virginia prison inmates

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Posted at 12:09 PM, Apr 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-09 12:09:14-04

NORFOLK, Va. - Four people were charged with allegedly participating in a conspiracy to use the personal identifying information of 35 Virginia prison inmates to fraudulently obtain over $300,000 in pandemic-related unemployment benefits.

According to court documents, 38-year-old Portsmouth woman Mary Benton and 35-year-old Norfolk woman Angelica Cartwright-Powers allegedly worked with two inmates at Virginia correctional institutes to collect other inmates' personally identifiable information, then applied for Virginia unemployment benefits.

Benton allegedly submitted successful unemployment applications for 31 inmates across three facilities, while Cartwright-Powers submitted four successful applications at one facility.

Chesapeake men Michael Lee Lewis, 41, and Michael Anthony White, 38, who were both incarcerated, provided inmate information to the women -- Lewis from the Augusta Correctional Center and White from the Lawrenceville Correctional Center.

The four people charged allegedly shared the proceeds from their crimes. Although the conspirators allegedly received $436,834, the Virginia Employment Commission was able to reclaim some of the funds, leaving the total amount of money at around $334,667.

Though the federal government and the VEC expanded unemployment benefit access, inmates remained ineligible for those benefits, and the submitted applications contained false statements such as the inmates' contact information, last employer and that they were "ready and willing" to work.

Benton is charged with one count of conspiracy, three counts of fraud in connection with major disaster benefits, and three counts of mail fraud.

Lewis and White are each charged with one count of conspiracy and two counts of mail fraud.

Cartwright-Powers is charged with one count of conspiracy, one count of fraud in connection with major disaster benefits, and one count of mail fraud.

If convicted, the conspirators face a maximum of five years in prison on the conspiracy count and thirty years in prison on each fraud count.