'Just the beginning': Arrests made as over $1 million stolen from unemployment funds
Attorney General Jeff Landry announced several arrests of individuals accused of fraudulently obtaining unemployment payments.
All of the suspected individuals are from the greater Baton Rouge area.
"Since the public health emergency was declared, Louisiana has experienced massive unemployment with hundreds of businesses forced into closure and their employees out of work. Unfortunately, fraudsters seized upon the situation; and the Unemployment Trust Fund was an easy target," Landry stated in a news release.
Landry pointed to the various press reports highlighting the more than $400 million in Louisiana unemployment benefits being disbursed to individuals who did not qualify to receive them. He reported $6.2 million in benefits going to prisoners in the state, and $1.08 million paid to dead people.
In October, Landry announced arrests his office made related to COVID-19 unemployment fraud. The July 20 released announced several more arrests of people accused of stealing over $1 million of government benefits.
“With the unemployment system being as overwhelmed and insecure as it has been, it is no surprise that bad actors are coming out of the woodworks to take advantage of it,” Landry said. “So my office will continue investigating false claims and doing what we legally can to bring criminals to justice.”
Louisiana Bureau of Investigation (LBI) agents learned multiple groups of individuals operating across several parishes in Louisiana had conspired to defraud both the Louisiana and California COVID-19 unemployment insurance programs.
It is alleged that members of these groups filed multiple fraudulent online claims with the California Employment Development Department (EDD) and the Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC). In total: LBI asserts that over 100 false claims were filed with California EDD, resulting in over $1 million in stolen unemployment funds; and that several of the accused simultaneously submitted fraudulent claims to the LWC, resulting in more than $60,000 being stolen.
- Dynasty Rowe (26, of Maringouin) has been charged with Illegal Transmission of Monetary Funds, Criminal Conspiracy, and Government Benefits Fraud.
- Kendell Fowler (42, of Baton Rouge) has been charged with Illegal Transmission of Monetary Funds and Criminal Conspiracy.
- Miquel Banks (28, of Plaquemine) has been charged with Illegal Transmission of Monetary Funds, Criminal Conspiracy, and Money Laundering.
- Lasia Brock (20, of Thibodaux) has been charged with Illegal Transmission of Monetary Funds and Government Benefits Fraud.
- Ashley Johnson (32, of Prairieville) has been charged with Illegal Transmission of Monetary Funds, Criminal Conspiracy, Money Laundering, and Government Benefits Fraud.
- Darrolyn Bell (29, of Plaquemine) has been charged with Illegal Transmission of Monetary Funds, Criminal Conspiracy, and Government Benefits Fraud.
The arrests were made with assistance from the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office, East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office, Iberville Parish Sheriff’s Office, West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office, Addis Police Department, U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), and LWC.
“Crime has no geographical boundaries and because of our partnerships with other law enforcement agencies, neither do we,” Iberville Parish Sheriff Brett Stassi said. “These partnerships are a crucial part in curbing crime and corruption in our communities.”
There are currently two other outstanding warrants related to this matter for Adrienne Johnson (37, of Prairieville) and Joseph Mitchell (24, of Baton Rouge). Anyone with information on their whereabouts is encouraged to contact LBI at 800-256-4506 or the local law enforcement agency.
Additionally, LBI received requests for assistance regarding other allegations that eventually resulted in two more arrests.
Cole Morden (24, of Denham Springs) has been charged with Government Benefits Fraud. He is accused of knowingly causing the submittal of weekly certifications to the LWC and allegedly collecting over $800 in unemployment funds while incarcerated at the Livingston Parish Sherriff's Office Correctional Facility.
Dana Ganaway (51, of Morgan City) has been charged with Government Benefits Fraud. During an interview with LBI agents, she confessed to submitting false unemployment insurance claims and concealing her employment income for purposes to receive pandemic unemployment benefits. Ganaway allegedly received $8,000 in fraudulent unemployment benefits.
The arrests were made with assistance from the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office, St. Mary Parish Sheriff’s Office, DOL, and LWC.
“I want to thank all of our law enforcement and agency partners who helped in our efforts,” concluded Landry. “I encourage anyone who knows of fraudulent activity related to COVID-19 unemployment benefits to report it.”
He noted the investigations are ongoing and all suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Those who know someone fraudulently receiving funds from the Unemployment Trust Fund or who believe they have been victimized may report it to the National Center for Disaster Fraud at 866-720-5721 or the Louisiana Bureau of Investigation at www.agjefflandry.com/unemployment/fraud/complaint.
Days after announcing the arrests, Landry said he would not rest in the fight against welfare fraud and the theft of government benefits.
"This is unfortunately just the beginning because of the government's failure to keep benefits from those who should not receive them," Landry stated in a social media post.
"I will use every legal tool at my disposal to bring those responsible to justice," he concluded.