Virginia inmate pleads guilty to involvement in pandemic unemployment benefits scheme

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Posted at 9:45 AM, Aug 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-01 09:45:37-04

NORFOLK, Va. - A Chesapeake man incarcerated at the Augusta Correctional Center pleaded guilty to his involvement in a scheme to obtain pandemic-related unemployment benefits by using the personal identifying information of more than 30 other Virginia prison inmates.

Court documents say that beginning in May 2020, 41-year-old Michael Lee Lewis, Jr. worked with two women to collect the personally identifiable information of other inmates to fraudulently apply for Virginia unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lewis provided his co-conspirators with information for inmates at the Augusta Correctional Center, resulting in approximately 21 successful unemployment claims.

A total of 35 successful claims were submitted between Lewis, the two women and other co-conspirators, who shared the more then $330,000 they received through unemployment benefits.

Although the conspirators initially obtained $436,834, the Virginia Employment Commission was able to reclaim some of the disbursed funds after discovering the fraud.

Lewis' co-conspirators, Mary Landon Benton and Angelica 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.