- The Washington Times - Friday, December 11, 2020

Federal prosecutors on Friday announced an indictment against a California man they say bilked the government out of more than $133,000 in coronavirus unemployment benefits, and used the cash to buy the Maserati SUV he was driving when he was caught.

The brazen scheme was only busted because Robert Sloan Mateer made an illegal U-turn in the middle of a Pasadena City block.

When he reached for his car documents, the officer spotted a gun and got consent to search the car, and discovered a massive haul of illegal materials: drugs, a loaded gun with the serial number filed off, nearly $200,000 in cash, and 17 unemployment benefit cards in other people’s names.

Fourteen of those cards were later linked to the coronavirus unemployment relief fund Congress set up this spring, according to an affidavit filed by a federal investigator in the case.

In a jailhouse interview with police, Mr. Mateer admitted he had been collecting identity profiles from mail he’d pilfered, and he applied for unemployment benefits in those names, and had the cash cards sent to various addresses.

He claimed to have amassed “thousands of names,” according to court documents.

He said he was collecting $14,500 a month on the cards, and it had taken him two months to accrue the cash he was found with in the car.

Mr. Mateer was charged by criminal complaint in federal court in October and indicted by a grand jury last month. Prosecutors publicized the indictment Friday ahead of an expected arraignment.

The coronavirus relief programs Congress created earlier this year may have helped lessen the blow of the pandemic, but they’ve also been a bonanza for thieves.

The Paycheck Protection Program, which shelled out tens of billions of dollars to companies to keep workers on payroll, has been a particular target.

But so has the federal unemployment benefit enhancement, which pays an additional $600 a week on top of what states already pay to those who are jobless amid the pandemic.

Earlier this year a rapper who goes by the name Nuke Bizzle was arrested for unemployment fraud, after he bragged in a video posted to YouTube about filing bogus unemployment applications.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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