LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A Corona woman serving a life sentence for murder pleaded guilty today to running a $2 million unemployment insurance benefits fraud scheme from behind bars that used stolen identities, some of which belonged to other inmates.
Natalie Le Demola, 38, entered her plea to federal charges of bank fraud, aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. A sentencing date was not immediately available. Le Demola and a dozen others were charged last April with using stolen identities to fraudulently obtain unemployment benefits -- including pandemic relief funds -- mostly during the second half of 2020.
According to the indictment, some of the personal information the defendants illegally obtained was provided by an unnamed prison official employed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. A U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman had no comment on whether the prison official will face federal charges.
The indictment filed in Los Angeles federal court names various defendants in 31 bank fraud counts and seven aggravated identity theft counts. Demola and other co-conspirators ``would acquire the PII (personal identifying information), such as the names, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers, of individuals, including identity theft victims, who were not eligible for UI benefits, including pandemic benefits, because they were employed, retired, or incarcerated,'' according to the document.
Members of the conspiracy then allegedly used the information to make fraudulent online applications for benefits from the California Employment Development Department. Once the applications were approved, they received EDD-funded debit cards that allowed them to withdraw money from ATMs across Southern California. The conspiracy and bank fraud charges each carry a sentence of up to 30 years in federal prison. Aggravated identity theft carries a mandatory two-year consecutive sentence, prosecutors noted.