Ex-Michigan Contractor Sentenced To Prison In Unemployment Insurance Scheme
Detroit Free Press (MI)
A former contract employee for the state's Unemployment Insurance Agency was sentenced to 58 months in federal prison Thursday after pleading guilty for her role in a multimillion-dollar unemployment insurance fraud scheme.
Brandi Hawkins, 40, was sentenced before Judge Paul Borman in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. As part of her sentence, Borman ordered Hawkins to pay nearly $3.8 million in restitution to the State of Michigan.
"Hawkins exploited the pandemic to defraud the State of Michigan and United States for her own personal gain," acting U.S. Attorney Saima Mohsin said in a news release.
Hawkins of Detroit is the first defendant in Michigan to be sentenced who was charged with stealing unemployment insurance funds during the pandemic. Nearly 40 people have been charged in southeastern Michigan with submitting more than $20 million in fraudulent unemployment claims in multiple states, including Michigan, since last summer.
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Hawkins's duties in her role at the state included reviewing, processing and verifying the legitimacy of unemployment insurance claims. Between April and June 2020, Hawkins would use her access to release payment on more than 700 claims, working with people filing fraudulent claims, sometimes using stolen identities, Mohsin's office said. In turn, Hawkins accepted bribes in return for releasing many of these claims.
Her actions resulted in the fraudulent disbursement of $3.8 million in state and federal funds. Had every fraudulent claim released by Hawkins been disbursed in full, the losses would have totaled more than $12 million, Mohsin's office said.
When Hawkins' residence was searched, more than $200,000 in cash was seized. She also used the money to buy handbags and other luxury goods, her office said.
Hawkins' lawyer, Randall Upshaw, did not respond to an email request for comment.