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Bristol, Tennessee woman pleads guilty to unemployment fraud

Bristol, Tennessee woman pleads guilty to unemployment fraud

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ABINGDON, Va. — A Bristol, Tennessee woman has pleaded guilty for her part in a Virginia unemployment scheme that involves dozens of co-conspirators, federal prosecutors said last Wednesday.

Melissa Hayes, 51, conspired with others, including several previously convicted in the case, to file claims for pandemic unemployment benefits through the Virginia Employment Commission website, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a news release. The scheme involved submitting claims for various individuals who were not eligible to receive pandemic unemployment benefits, including inmates incarcerated in Southwest Virginia, prosecutors said.

Those involved in the scheme lied on the filings to make filers appear eligible for benefits, the release states. Because pandemic unemployment benefits were paid weekly, those filing reverified and recertified the false statements on numerous occasions throughout the scheme.

In all, the conspiracy filed fraudulent claims for approximately 37 individuals, causing at least $499,000 in false claims to be paid. Prosecutors said Hayes was directly involved with more than $70,000 in fraudulent claims.

Hayes pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the government and one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. She will be sentenced July 26.

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