LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Nine district attorneys from across the state have formed a task force to tackle fraud in the California Employment Development Department.
And on Tuesday, the group announced that it had found widespread fraud happening in prisons and jails through the state's EDD.
"The total amount through August that we know of is $420,000 in the name of death row inmates," Anne Marie Schubert, Sacramento County District Attorney, said. "And who's on that list? A lot of notorious people who's names have claims filed in their names."
One of those, according to the task force, is Isauro Aguirre who is awaiting execution in San Quentin State Prison for the murder of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez who was abused, tortured and beaten to death in 2013.
Schubert said the prosecutors became aware of the massive problem last month and formed the task force in an effort to tackle it.
In a letter to the governor this week, the California District Attorney's Statewide EDD Fraud Task Force detailed what their investigation found: more than 35,000 claims filed between March and August in the names of inmates. Of those claims, 20,000 have been paid out — totaling more than $140 million.
"Tens of thousands of inmates — local, state and federal," she said. "The highest single claim paid is close to $20,000."
One of the task force members was Riverside County District Attorney Michael Hestrin. Both Schubert and Hestrin said some inmates had their identities stolen and used to apply for benefits, but others were in on the alleged schemes to defraud the state agency.
"We've heard stories of prisoners getting money on their books, but their spouses, their parents, their siblings or just fellow gang members on the outside are getting these debit cards and running up, you know, buying luxury items," he said. "It's hard to understand how we got here, how our government has grown this inattentive, but at the end of the day we've got to do better with government."
On Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom responded with a statement saying he has already taken action in an effort to solve the latest issue to plague the overwhelmed state agency.
"Based on that direction, EDD and CDCR, in partnership with USDOL, worked to match the social security numbers of those in state custody to identify the scope of the problem and to hold people accountable," he said.
The EDD said it has been working to identify suspect claims and has enhanced prevention efforts like working with cyber security experts.
But for people like Megan Charles, one of thousands of Californians waiting to collect unemployment benefits, the question remains of what will be done to make sure money gets into the hands of those who need it.
"What is he actually doing to really help us, because now I'm going into December with no benefits, and another lockdown, so we can't even look for jobs," she said. "There's no jobs out there."
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