Woman sentenced to 75 months in connection with unemployment fraud

Staff Report

A Baton Rouge woman was sentenced to 75 months in federal prison following her convictions for wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in connection with a fraudulent scheme to obtain unemployment benefits.

United States Attorney Ronald C. Gathe Jr.  announced in a news release that U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson sentenced 41-year-old Shawnda Augustus in the case. She was also sentenced to serve three years of supervised release following her term of imprisonment.

Additionally, Augustus was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $361,074 to state unemployment agencies in Louisiana, Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, New Jersey, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and New Mexico.

According to admissions made as a part of her guilty plea, following the floods of 2016, Augustus engaged in a scheme to defraud and to obtain money from FEMA by submitting fraudulent applications for disaster unemployment assistance benefits to the Louisiana Workforce Commission, both in her own name, and in the names of other victims, without their knowledge or consent. 

As a result of the scheme, Augustus submitted or caused to be submitted some 40 fraudulent claims. 

Beginning in March 2020 and continuing through at least January 2021, Augustus engaged in multi-state fraud scheme to obtain pandemic unemployment assistance benefits to which she was not entitled.

Augustus submitted fraudulent applications for PUA benefits in Louisiana, and in multiple other states, including Arizona, Georgia, Tennessee, Hawaii and Nebraska, among others. 

Augustus also obtained the personal identifying information of victims, including names, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers. 

Using the stolen identities, Augustus submitted about 29 false and fraudulent applications for benefits to state unemployment agencies in the names of those victims both in Louisiana and in multiple other states. 

According to the plea agreement, Augustus received about $123,908 in false claims for benefits.

Augustus withdrew the funds as cash, or used the funds to pay for hotels, airline tickets, and purchases at restaurants and retail stores.