Photo by bloomsberries / via Flickr

A San Diego woman and former contract employee with the state’s unemployment insurance program has been sentenced to just over two years in prison for her role in a scheme to take pandemic unemployment aid funds.

Nyika Gomez, 41, who worked as a call center agent assisting people in processing their unemployment insurance claims, admitted to submitting false unemployment claims using personal identifying information she acquired from inmates, with the help of her then-boyfriend, an unidentified inmate serving a 94-years-to life sentence for murder at California State Prison, Sacramento.

She pleaded guilty in July to federal wire fraud and aggravated identify theft charges and was sentenced Wednesday in San Diego federal court to 25 months in custody.

In one example outlined in her plea agreement, Gomez claimed one inmate was an Arizona-based independent contractor left unemployed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In truth, the inmate was imprisoned in California at the time and thus was ineligible to receive unemployment assistance.

The benefits were paid out in the form of debit cards, which were mailed to Gomez’s residence or the home of someone working with her, prosecutors alleged.

In total, Gomez submitted more than $214,000 in false claims to both California’s Employment Development Department and Arizona’s Department of Economic Security, according to her plea agreement.

Both agencies paid out more than $93,000 in fraudulent claims, court documents state. As part of her sentence, Gomez was ordered to pay that amount in restitution.

A defense sentencing memorandum submitted by her attorney alleges Gomez believed the personal information she received was obtained legally. Though the information turned out to be that of other inmates housed with her boyfriend, she believed she was submitting applications for her boyfriend’s family members and his friends’ families, the defense alleged.

According to the defense, Gomez’s role was minor compared to at least six prison inmates involved in the scheme, all of whom were not charged largely due to the fact that they are serving life sentences.

–City News Service