A claims specialist at the Social Security Administration has been indicted for a COVID relief funds fraud scheme in which she allegedly defrauded the government of over $288,000.
According to an announcement from the Justice Department, Takiyah Gordon Austin, of Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, was charged with 21 counts of wire fraud, four counts of aggravated identify theft, and four counts of theft of government funds.
The indictment alleges that from May 2020 to in or about May 2021, Austin filed a number of claims under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program for ineligible recipients to use the money for her own personal expenses. She allegedly took payments from the ineligible individuals in return for filing the claims.
Under the CARES Act, weekly unemployment benefits were provided under the PUA program to individuals resulting from unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To be eligible, applicants must have been able to work each day and, if offered a job, must have been able to accept it. Once applicants were approved to receive benefits, they were then required to submit weekly certifications that indicated that they were ready, willing and able to work each day, were seeking full time employment, and did not refuse any job offers or referrals. They also must have reported any employment during the week and the gross pay or other payments received.
In addition to filing claims for the ineligible individuals, the indictment alleges that Austin also filed claims after accessing SSA databases to obtain the personal information from unsuspecting individuals and then diverted the unemployment funds to addresses she controlled in order to use the funds for her own personal expenses.
Indictments are only allegations and individuals are presumed innocent until proven guilty in court.
“The public trusts Social Security employees to handle their sensitive information and records appropriately. Mrs. Gordon violated that trust to perpetrate a fraud scheme to take advantage of COVID-related assistance at a time when so many others have a legitimate need for those funds,” said Gail S. Ennis, Inspector General of the Social Security Administration. “I am grateful for our partnerships with the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General and the United States Postal Inspection Service, and I thank the U.S. Attorney’s Office for their continued efforts to prosecute those who violate public trust and commit fraud.”