Virginia woman gets 10 years for spearheading COVID unemployment fraud scheme

A Virginia woman who admitted to leading a scheme meant to defraud the government out of over $1.5 million in coronavirus unemployment benefits has been sentenced to a decade behind bars.

Farren Gaddis Ricketts, 31, pleaded guilty to a plot in which she and her co-conspirators submitted unemployment claims to the Virginia Employment Commission website using the identification information of people, such as several inmates, known to not be eligible to receive those benefits, according to a release Friday from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Court documents say that Ricketts developed what she said was a financial services company that assisted with filing pandemic unemployment claims and, under the name Ricketts Advisory, LLC, registered with the Virginia State Corporation, according to the release.

Ricketts collected benefits on her own and charged more than 120 of co-conspirator “clients” to file the bogus claims, 150 of which she filed between May 2020 and February of this year, using fake documents including IRS forms for pre-pandemic proof of income.

“When Congress provided much needed financial assistance for those impacted by COVID-19, Farren Ricketts led a criminal conspiracy to steal more than $1.5 million in pandemic-related unemployment benefits,” U.S. Attorney Christopher R. Kavanaugh said Friday, pledging to continue prosecuting those who commit similar crimes.

“Ricketts not only defrauded taxpayers herself, but she also helped dozens more criminals line their pockets with unemployment benefits meant for those truly in need,” said Darrell Waldon, IRS-CI Special Agent in Charge, Washington D.C. Field Office.

Several agencies are still investigating the scheme.

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