MIAMI, FL – Joel Bellegarde, 30, of Doral, Florida, was arrested and charged with wire fraud, mail fraud, and aggravated identity theft, for submitting fraudulent claims for unemployment benefits to the State of Oklahoma, benefits which were intended for Oklahoma residents who had lost their jobs due to the economic impact of COVID-19. Ariana Fajardo Orshan, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, FBI, Miami Field Office, made the announcement.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, passed by Congress and signed into law on March 27, 2020, provided protections to the American people from the public health and economic impacts of COVID-19. Among other things, the CARES Act expanded unemployment benefits to people affected by COVID-19 by expanding eligibility for unemployment benefits, and increasing the dollar amount of unemployment benefit payments.
According to allegations in the criminal complaint, Joel Bellegarde used the stolen identities of numerous Oklahoma residents to submit fraudulent claims for unemployment benefits with the State of Oklahoma. The complaint alleges that that from April 23 through June 23, 2020, Bellegarde accessed the Oklahoma unemployment website over 100 times to submit fraudulent claims. Oklahoma distributed these unemployment benefit funds in the form of direct deposits onto prepaid debit cards, which were subsequently mailed to Bellegarde in Florida.
The complaint alleges that this CARES Act unemployment fraud was one of several fraudulent schemes perpetrated by Bellegarde. The complaint also alleges that Bellegarde used stolen identifies and social engineering to gain access to victims’ retirement savings accounts, and that Bellegarde then fraudulently withdrew funds from those accounts. Specifically, Bellegarde allegedly impersonated victims by providing victims’ names, social security numbers, mailing addresses, and mothers’ maiden names, in order to successfully pass security protocols and request withdrawals of the victims’ retirement funds. Bellegarde’s actions allegedly caused significant losses to the retirement accounts of numerous victims, with some account holders suffering complete depletions of their retirement funds. The complaint further alleges that Bellegarde used stolen identities to submit fraudulent credit card applications in the names of his victims.
U.S. Attorney Fajardo Orshan commended the FBI for its work on this investigation. She also thanked the U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of Inspector General, the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, and the United States Postal Inspection Service for their assistance. Assistant United States Attorneys Michael B. Homer and Alejandra Lopez are prosecuting this case.
Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form. A criminal complaint is a charging instrument containing allegations. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law. You may find related court documents and information on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or at http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov, under case number 20-mj-03251.