Portsmouth woman faces up to 30 years after pleading guilty to involvement in obtaining unemployment benefits for inmates

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Posted at 5:46 PM, Jun 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-26 17:50:37-04

NORFOLK, Va. – A Portsmouth woman pleaded guilty Thursday for her involvement in obtaining unemployment benefits for Virginia prison inmates'.

According to court officials, 38-year-old Mary Landon Benton, pleaded guilty to her involvement in a fraudulent scheme to obtain over $300,000 in pandemic-related unemployment benefits by using the personal identifying information of over 30 Virginia prison inmates.

“This scheme resulted in the deliberate theft of unemployment funds that were intended to serve as a lifeline for members of our communities who faced financial hardship during the pandemic,” said Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “As Attorney General Garland recently emphasized, we will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to use all available tools to protect these essential taxpayer-funded resources and hold accountable those who seek to illegally profit from the pandemic.”

According to court documents, Benton, worked with inmates at three state correctional institutions to collect the information of other inmates to fraudulently apply for Virginia unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Court documents say Benton submitted successful applications for Virginia unemployment benefits for 31 inmates across three state correctional facilities. She also attempted to file approximately ten to 20 other unemployment claims that were not approved because someone else had already filed a claim for that inmate.

They say each application had numerous false statements that made the application go through successfully, such as the inmates’ contact information and last employer, and that they were ready and willing to work.

Benton also took a portion of the claims and provided a portion of the proceeds to the inmate facilitators as well, according to officials.

She was indicted on April 8, along with three other defendants. The other three co-defendants remain pending.

Benton is scheduled to be sentenced on October 25 and faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.