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Two men charged in Employment Development Department fraud scheme with losses in excess of $500,000

RIVERSIDE – Two defendants have been charged in an unemployment benefits fraud scheme, accused of submitting fraudulent California Employment Development Department (EDD) claims resulting in a loss of more than $500,000.

 

Brandon Christopher Avery, DOB: 6-16-1993, was arrested by an officer with the San Bernardino County Probation Department when he reported for a scheduled appointment on Oct. 18, 2021. Avery has been charged with 48 felony counts. He was arraigned today, Oct. 25, 2021, and entered not guilty pleas to all counts. His next court date is Nov. 3, 2021, in Dept. 61 at the Hall of Justice in Riverside.

 

Donald Marshawn Peer, DOB: 6-11-1994, is currently incarcerated at Ironwood State Prison for unrelated offenses and will be transported in the coming weeks for his arraignment. He has been charged with 16 felonies in the case.

 

The DA’s Bureau of Investigation, Major Fraud Unit investigated this case. The Bureau is continuing to investigate numerous EDD fraud-related cases and expects further future arrests. In December 2020, our office began an investigation into EDD unemployment benefits fraud committed by inmates who were housed in various Riverside County jails and prisons when their online applications were submitted. The investigation identified inmates at Ironwood State Prison who had the same IP address captured at the time their applications were submitted to EDD. 

 

By using the phone numbers listed on the EDD applications to search inmate phone call system records, investigators discovered that one inmate, Donald Peer, was making phone calls to an outside facilitator identified as Brandon Avery, a previous Ironwood State Prison inmate released in May 2020 on post-release community supervision in San Bernardino County. Avery was found to have deposited more than $1,500 to several inmates, sometimes using the inmates’ EDD benefits debit cards. 

 

In the recorded phone calls between Peer and Avery, Peer provided Avery with personal identifying information for several inmates and other individuals so that Avery could file fraudulent EDD claims using that information. Avery explained how much he would pay Peer for every person who had an EDD claim approved. Per inmate phone calls, Peer provided Avery with personal identifying information for nineteen subjects, including inmates, with EDD benefits paid out in the amount of $178,544.

 

During the investigation, investigators obtained Avery’s cell phone, which had been seized in October 2020 due to a violation of his post-release community supervision. On the cell phone, investigators found personal identifying information for 33 other people, including photos of the confirmation screen for some of their EDD applications.  Avery’s phone also contained text messages that he sent to other individuals requesting to use their addresses to receive EDD mail and offering to pay a certain amount of money for each card that arrived at their address. 

 

The total amount of EDD benefits paid out for the inmates and others located on Avery’s cell phone was $518,030. 

 

The case, RIF2104179, is being prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Natasha Haney of the DA’s Insurance Fraud Team. 

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Author: John Hall
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