A Homeland Security employee pleaded guilty Tuesday to wire fraud, admitting he bilked a small business owner and the government out of thousands of dollars in emergency relief money.
Tyrese Carter was employed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and was deployed to the Small Business Administration to help field phone calls from Americans trying to get pandemic funds.
Carter managed to fool a woman who ran a skin-care business in Colorado and who thought she’d gotten an overpayment from the government.
He fielded the initial call from the business owner, said he needed to check on the situation, then called back, blocking his own phone number to hide his identity, and pretended to be a supervisor named Michael Valdes.
In fact, no such person works at the SBA, investigators said.
Carter had the owner send nearly $9,000 into a private account he controlled.
The business owner quickly suspected fraud and reported the situation to her bank, which repaid her. But the bank never got its money back, investigators said.
Carter has been ordered to pay $8,738 in restitution as part of his plea agreement.
The trillions of dollars Congress has approved over the past 15 months for pandemic relief have been plagued by fraud.
Lawmakers, wanting the cash to go out quickly, short-circuited usual fraud checks, in what has turned out to be an invitation for mischief by fraudsters.
Thousands of bogus unemployment applications have been filed by fraudsters using stolen identities, while unscrupulous business owners have lied about their activities and number of employees to claim relief money from the SBA.
A California jury on Friday found four people guilty of trying to steal millions of dollars from the SBA in bogus loans. Four other people involved in the fraud scheme pleaded guilty this month.
In Georgia, meanwhile, two career swindlers were given five-year prison sentences for stealing $130,000 in pandemic unemployment benefits. Malik Abdul McCaully and Tamesha Lashelle Brown were caught because they tried to escape a traffic stop in October and crashed their car, which is when police discovered they had a cache of unemployment benefit cards in other people’s names.
The level of fraud has shocked some lawmakers who this week proposed a bill to try to claw back some of the funds.
Led by Rep. Michelle Steele, California Republican, the bipartisan legislation would require states, which administer the unemployment program, to pay the feds back for fraud.
California’s program alone estimates $31 billion in bogus pandemic unemployment payments.