San Diego woman pleads guilty to unemployment benefit fraud involving inmates

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) – A San Diego woman and former contract employee with the state’s unemployment insurance program pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal wire fraud and aggravated identify theft charges stemming from allegations that she conspired with her prison inmate boyfriend to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars in pandemic unemployment aid.

Nyika Gomez, who worked as a call center agent assisting people in processing their unemployment insurance claims, admitted to submitting false unemployment claims using personal identifying information she acquired from inmates, with the help of her boyfriend, an unidentified inmate serving a 94- year-to life sentence for murder at California State Prison, Sacramento.

Gomez’s boyfriend also helped her buy stolen personal identifying information from out-of-state residents to submit additional false unemployment claims, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

In one example outlined in her plea agreement, Gomez claimed one inmate was an Arizona-based independent contractor left unemployed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, when in truth, the inmate was imprisoned in California at the time and thus was ineligible to receive unemployment assistance.

The benefits were paid out in the form of debit cards, which were mailed to Gomez’s residence or the home of someone working with her, prosecutors alleged.

In total, Gomez submitted more than $214,000 in false claims to both California’s Employment Development Department and Arizona’s Department of Economic Security, according to her plea agreement. Both agencies paid out more than $93,000 in fraudulent claims, court documents state.

Gomez submitted false claims using the identities of 17 people who were ineligible to receive the benefits either because they were incarcerated, never employed in the positions represented on their claim forms, or both, according to her plea agreement.

Gomez was arrested in December in San Diego. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 8 in San Diego federal court.

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