- Associated Press - Thursday, April 8, 2021

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Fifteen Rhode Island residents have been charged with defrauding unemployment insurance programs tied to federal COVID-19 relief funds, U.S. Acting Attorney Richard Myrus announced Thursday.

Prosecutors said the suspects fraudulently filed unemployment insurance claims in some 11 states, totaling nearly $580,000.

“It’s disgraceful that anyone would attempt to fraudulently obtain funds intended for hard-working Americans during the current health crisis,” Myrus said at press conference announcing the arrests, WPRI-TV reports.

Prosecutors said some of the suspects were discovered after they took out large cash advances at Twin River Casino using out-of-state unemployment benefit cards, but then left without gambling.

One Central Falls man made a $9,000 cash advance at the Lincoln casino using a California-issued unemployment benefits card. Investigators later found he’d also made other unemployment insurance claims in California and Massachusetts.

Myrus said the suspects all used their own names to fraudulently obtain unemployment insurance money, rather than stealing other people’s identities.

“Sadly, the victims of these crimes are unemployed and are relying on these benefits,” said Joseph Bonavolonta, head of the FBI’s Boston office, which helped execute the search warrants.

The case is part of a broader federal effort to crack down on COVID-19 relief fund fraud.

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