A 34-year-old Palmdale woman was among five people arrested by federal authorities on Tuesday in connection to a Los Angeles-based ring that obtained at least $2 million in COVID-19 unemployment funds by using stolen identities, some of which belonged to California prison inmates.
Amber Jane Wade’s arrest stemmed from a 39-count indictment that charges 13 defendants with using stolen identities to fraudulently obtain unemployment benefits — mostly pandemic-related relief — during the second half of 2020, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The lead defendant in the case is Natalie Le Demola, 37, who is serving a life prison sentence for helping murder her mother in 2001. Also charged was Carleisha Neosha Plummer, 32, of Los Angeles, who was a close associate of Demola in prison until she was paroled in July 2020, prosecutors said.
The federal indictment charges the defendants with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud. According to the indictment, some of the personal information the defendants illegally obtained was provided by an unnamed prison official employed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. A U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman had no comment on whether the prison official will face federal charges. The indictment names various defendants in 31 bank fraud counts and seven aggravated identity theft counts.
The defendants “would acquire the PII (personal identifying information), such as the names, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers, of individuals, including identity theft victims, who were not eligible for UI benefits, including pandemic benefits, because they were employed, retired, or incarcerated,” the indictment alleges.
Members of the conspiracy then allegedly used the information to make fraudulent online applications for benefits from the California Employment Development Department. Once the applications were approved, they received EDD- funded debit cards that allowed them to withdraw money from ATMs across Southern California, according to the indictment.
The defendants named in the indictment are:
— Amber Jane Wade, 34, of Palmdale, who was arrested Tuesday, May 17;
— Carleisha Neosha Plummer, 32, of Los Angeles, who was arrested Tuesday, May 17;
— Loresha Shamone Davis, 31, of Moreno Valley, who was arrested Tuesday, May 17;
— Porsha Latrice Johnson, 32, of Lynwood, who was arrested Tuesday, May 17;
— Donisha Lashawn Pace, 38, of South Los Angeles, who was arrested Tuesday, May 17;
— Natalie Le Demola (lead defendant), originally of Corona, who will be brought to federal court in downtown Los Angeles to face the charges in this case;
— James Antonio Johnson, who has several aliases including “Big Dawg Niddy,” 31, of Los Angeles, who is currently in custody in a Los Angeles County jail;
— Khanshanda King, 31, of Los Angeles, who is still being sought;
— Cleshay Johnson II, 28, of Los Angeles, who is still being sought;
— Felicite Aleisha King, 41, of Los Angeles, who is still being sought;
— Shafequah Lynete Mitchell, 33, of Los Angeles, who is currently traveling outside of California;
— Mykara Destiny Robertson, 23, of Los Angeles, who is still being sought; and
— Dominique Charmone Martin, 37, of Yucaipa, who is still being sought.
The conspiracy and bank fraud charges each carry a sentence of up to 30 years in federal prison. Aggravated identity theft carries a mandatory two- year consecutive sentence, prosecutors noted.
[Information via news release from the Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Central District of California.]