Portsmouth woman pleads guilty to illegally obtaining pandemic unemployment benefits


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NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – On Thursday, the Department of Justice announced that a Portsmouth woman pleaded guilty to her involvement in a fraudulent scheme that used the personal identifying information of over 30 Virginia prison inmates to obtain over $300,000 in pandemic-related unemployment benefits.

“This scheme resulted in the deliberate theft of unemployment funds that were intended to serve as a lifeline for members of our communities who faced financial hardship during the pandemic,” said Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “As Attorney General Garland recently emphasized, we will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to use all available tools to protect these essential taxpayer-funded resources and hold accountable those who seek to illegally profit from the pandemic.”

Court documents identify the woman as Mary Landon Benton, 38, of Portsmouth. She worked with three inmates to collect the personal information of other inmates in order to apply for Virginia unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. She submitted between 41-51 applications, although only 31 were approved.

The applications included several false pieces of information, including the inmates’ contact information and last employer.

Benton took a portion of the money before providing the rest to the inmates, according to the Statement of Facts.

“Today’s guilty plea affirms the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General’s commitment to working with our federal and state agency partners to investigate fraud and identity theft that adversely impacts the integrity of the unemployment insurance program. We are grateful to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, and the Virginia Employment Commission for their continued partnership,” said Derek Pickle, Special Agent-in-Charge, Washington, D.C. Region, U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General.

Benton was indicted on April 8 and will be sentenced on October 25. She faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.

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