District Attorney Bragg Announces Indictment of Two Who Stole Identities in Pandemic Unemployment Benefits Scheme
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr. today announced the indictment of WILLIAM O’CONNOR and PRISCILLA MALCOLM for stealing more than $380,000 in pandemic unemployment benefits. O’CONNOR and MALCOLM used the personal identifying information of 27 identity theft victims to create New York State Department of Labor (“DOL”) unemployment assistance accounts.
The defendants are charged in a New York Supreme Court indictment with Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, Welfare Fraud in the Second Degree and 27 counts of Identity Theft.
“Unemployment programs are for New Yorkers who need urgent financial support, and this was especially true when pandemic unemployment assistance was available. As alleged, not only did these individuals steal the identities of 27 unwitting victims, but they also then took advantage of the system meant to help New Yorkers in need,” said District Attorney Bragg. “We are grateful to our law enforcement partners who assisted in this multi-agency effort and will continue to work together to hold accountable all individuals that defraud the state.”
“New Yorkers rely on Unemployment Insurance to survive during tough times,” said New York State Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon. “When someone steals from the system, they steal from all taxpayers in New York State and it is unacceptable. Let this be a reminder to criminals that if you steal benefits, the New York State Department of Labor and its partners will find you and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.”
“For their own fraudulent financial gain, these defendants stole dozens of identities and exploited an essential government program meant to ease the tremendous burdens of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said NYPD Commissioner Keechant L. Sewell. “The NYPD and our law enforcement partners will continue to aggressively pursue anyone who seeks to defraud others, holding them fully accountable for their actions. I want to thank and commend the Office of the Manhattan District Attorney, the Department of Labor, and our NYPD investigators for their tireless dedication to seeing justice served in this case.”
U.S. Homeland Security Investigations Acting Deputy Special Agent-in-Charge Mike Alfonso said, “This case is yet another example of criminals exploiting a program designed to help those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Homeland Security Investigations’ El Dorado Task Force will continue to use all of our investigative capabilities to support partner agencies in exposing financial frauds and combating identity theft related benefit frauds.”
“An important part of the mission of the Office of Inspector General is to investigate allegations involving unemployment insurance fraud. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to investigate these types of allegations,” said Jonathan Mellone, Special Agent-in-Charge, U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General.
The indictment is the culmination of an investigation conducted by the Manhattan D.A.’s Office using phone records, IP address records, financial records, an Apple iCloud search warrant, physical surveillance, review of dozens of seized electronic devices and premises search warrants carried out in New York, Brooklyn and Westchester Counties. The investigation began when law enforcement officials were contacted about a fraudulently filed pandemic unemployment claim under the name of a former New York professional athlete.
According to court documents and statements from prosecutors, from August 2020 to September 2021, O’CONNOR and MALCOLM stole personal identifying information, including names and social security numbers, before filing dozens of claims for unemployment with DOL during a time when enhanced unemployment benefits were available due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Across these 27 claims, the defendants stole $382,628 from DOL. A possible $861,776 could have been collected were the fraud to have continued unchecked.
Following a more than year-long investigation, court-authorized search warrants led to the recovery of cellular telephones, routers, computers, items of clothing, ledgers, mail and other personal identifying information.
The ledgers contained lists of names, social security numbers and other stolen personal identifying information of dozens of individuals, including some of the victims in the above-described fraud. The information was also stored on various electronic devices.
At least seven victims were Manhattan residents, while others live elsewhere in the state or are out-of-state residents.
Beth Potashnick, Senior Investigative Counsel for the Cybercrime and Identity Theft Bureau, is handling the prosecution of this case under the supervision of Assistant District Attorneys Jeremy Glickman (Chief of the Cybercrime and Identity Theft Bureau), Christopher Conroy (Senior Advisor to the Investigation Division) and Executive Assistant District Attorney Susan Hoffinger (Chief of the Investigation Division). Investigative Analyst Michael Brennan, Jr., David Chan, (former Deputy Director of the High Technology Assistance Unit) and Douglas Daus of the High Technology Assistance Unit, also assisted with the investigation.
D.A. Bragg thanked the NYPD’s Financial Crimes Task Force, particularly Detective Michael McCaffrey, the Homeland Security Investigations New York Field Office, the New York State Department of Labor, the United States Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General, the Social Security Administration Office – Office of the Inspector General, the United States Postal Inspection Service – Office of the Inspector General, the Yonkers Police Department Warrants Squad and Emergency Service Unit and the NYPD Emergency Service Unit for their assistance in the investigation.