Two Bowie residents and a Laurel man conspired with others to reap $1.6 million of unemployment insurance money during the COVID-19 pandemic, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.
An indictment handed down by a federal grand jury last month alleges that Sky Tiffany Lawson, 28 and Sayquan Leon Bridges, 27, both of Bowie, as well as Christopher Thomas Yancy, 30, of Laurel, worked with seven others to file at least 213 fraudulent unemployment insurance claims in Maryland and California.
Starting at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic around March 2020, the nine defendants worked together over the course of more than a year to use others’ personal information to make unauthorized unemployment applications, reaping extra benefits granted by the CARES Act and using the funds for ATM withdrawals to pay for personal expenses, according to the indictment filed in the U.S. District Court of Maryland on June 21 and unsealed over the last two weeks.
The nine are charged with conspiracy, aggravated identity theft and multiple counts of wire fraud. Yancy, the Laurel resident, faces an additional charge for possessing a stolen key that matched a USPS lock, according to the indictment.
If convicted, the defendants could face a maximum sentence of 30 years in federal prison for the conspiracy as well as each count of wire fraud that they face, prosecutors said in a news release. They could also face two years in addition to that for aggravated identity theft. Yancy could face an additional sentence of up to 10 years if convicted on the mail fraud count.
Also named on the indictment are Dementrous Von Smith, 26, of Waldorf, Nadine Mahoro Mwamikazi, 25, of Silver Spring, Christian Malik Adrea, 24, of Michellville, Stephawn Malik Watson, 26, of District Heights and Aiyanna Mone Washington, 26, of Glenarden. All eight are being represented by different attorneys, according to court records. A ninth defendant’s name is redacted on the indictment.
Washington and Watson both pleaded not guilty on all counts at their respective arraignments earlier this month. Electronic court records did not display an arraignment date for the other defendants.
Others have been accused of making fraudulent applications for Maryland unemployment benefits during the pandemic: Christopher Kenneth Guy, 30, of Tampa, Florida, pleaded guilty in Maryland’s U.S. District Court in February to wire fraud and identity theft offenses for false unemployment applications in several states, including Maryland. He was sentenced last month to serve more than five years of federal prison time.
Other cases involving pandemic relief money intended for businesses: Rudolph Brooks Jr, 45, of Cheltenham, is awaiting further proceedings after being charged with wire fraud and money laundering in connection with a $1.5 million Paycheck Protection Program loan. And last month, Dana Hayes, 37, of Baltimore, was charged with wire fraud, money laundering and identity theft counts after prosecutors said he made false statements on applications for business relief loans.