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California prisoners, death row inmates involved in $1B pandemic unemployment fraud: officials

California prisoners including death row inmates were involved in fraud schemes totaling as much as $1 billion in stolen pandemic unemployment aid, officials said Tuesday.

Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said inmates in every California prison and in jails across the state filed 35,000 unemployment claims, according to NBC News. More than $140 million has already been paid out.

“Quite frankly, the inmates are mocking us,” Schubert said, according to Fox 5 San Diego. Combined losses “may well amount to upwards of a billion dollars having already been paid in their names.”

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At least 158 claims were filed for 133 death row inmates, she added. About $420,000 has been paid out.

Once the final amount of losses is totaled, Schubert said, it will likely be “one of the biggest frauds of taxpayer dollars in California history.”

Schubert and other officials said the California Employment Development Department compounded the problem because it did not check the claims against a list of prison inmates. Prosecutors said they asked California Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomCalifornia governor calls in National Guard to secure state Capitol Mississippi runs out of coronavirus vaccine as state expands eligibility Overnight Health Care: US sets new record for daily COVID deaths with over 4,300 | Johnson & Johnson vaccine has promising immune response in early trial | In-person learning doesn't appear to drive COVID cases MORE (D) to intervene.

“Unemployment fraud across local jails and state and federal prisons is absolutely unacceptable,” Newsom said in a statement shared with The Hill. He added that the state would “continue to fully partner with law enforcement and direct as many resources as needed to investigate and resolve this issue speedily.”

Loree Levy, deputy director of the Employment Development Department, told NBC News that the agency is “pursuing how to integrate such cross-matches moving forward as part of enhanced prevention efforts during this unprecedented time of pandemic-related unemployment fraud across the country.”

Authorities said that Scott Peterson, who was convicted in 2004 for murdering his pregnant wife, was among those involved with the scheme. Prosecutors did not disclose how much money was associated with Peterson’s unemployment claim, according to NBC 4 Los Angeles, due to an ongoing investigation.

Updated at 2:20 p.m.