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Federal Prosecutors: 3 Inland Empire Women Behind More Than 100 Cases Of EDD Fraud

RIVERSIDE (CBSLA) — Three Inland Empire women who federal prosecutors say were collectively behind more than 100 cases of EDD fraud have been arrested.

Sequoia Edwards, 35, of Moreno Valley; 42-year-old Mireya Ramos of Colton; and 33-year-old Paris Thomas of San Bernardino, were all arrested this week on suspicion of filing dozens of fraudulent EDD claims in the names of California state prison inmates. Prosecutors say each woman took at least $345,000 in fraudulent EDD funds.

Edwards, who was arrested Friday morning, was charged with filing at least 27 fraudulent unemployment claims over two months last summer that paid out at least $455,000 in benefits. Prosecutors say at least six of those cases used the personal information of a California prison inmate that she allegedly got from an incarcerated cousin. An FBI search of her home in February turned up several EDD debit cards and $45,000 in cash, according to a federal affidavit.

Colton was arrested Thursday on suspicion of filing at least 37 fraudulent EDD claims between June 2020 and January 2021 that falsely stated the inmates whose information was used in the applications were barbers who could not work due to the pandemic. The personal information Colton used in the applications were allegedly obtained from her long-time boyfriend, who is currently serving a life sentence in Calipatria State Prison. Colton received at least $353,532 in unemployment benefits, according to the Department of Justice.

Federal prosecutors say Thomas, who was arrested Wednesday, filed approximately 49 fraudulent EDD applications, including at least 15 that used the personal information of people incarcerated in state prisons, a federal prison, and county jails. The FBI seized EDD cards and a notebook filled with the personal information of more than 40 people when they searched her home in February, according to a federal affidavit.

"The 49 fraudulent UI claims mentioned above caused EDD to disburse over $440,000 in UI benefits from June 2020 to December 2020," the affidavit said.

The three women are the latest of about 150 people who have been charged across the country in what the Justice Department called "an unprecedented explosion of unemployment insurance (UI) fraud over the past year."

Ramos and Thomas have both been released on $10,000 bail and have been ordered back to court on May 4 and May 11, respectively. Edwards is scheduled to make her first appearance in the United States District Court in Riverside Friday afternoon.

All three women, who have been charged in separate criminal complaints, faces two counts each of fraud in connection with emergency benefits and wire fraud. If convicted as charged, they face a sentence of a maximum of at least 30 years in federal prison.

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