Calif. woman could get 20 years for stimulus fraud plot with son, a death row inmate

The woman's son coordinated with another person to email her a spreadsheet containing the personal information of 9,043 people


By Erin Tracy
The Modesto Bee
        
MODESTO, Calif. — A Modesto woman is facing more than 20 years in prison after admitting to working with her son, a death row inmate, to file more than 100 fraudulent claims to obtain COVID-19 stimulus checks.

Sheila Denise Dunlap, 51, pleaded guilty in federal court on Friday to engaging in a conspiracy to commit wire fraud and to aggravated identity theft, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Dunlap was charged by a federal indictment in May with engaging in a wire fraud conspiracy to file scores of fraudulent applications for Economic Impact Payment (EIP) payments, commonly known as stimulus checks.

Barbed wire is seen inside the east block of death row at San Quentin State Prison Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016, in San Quentin, Calif.
Barbed wire is seen inside the east block of death row at San Quentin State Prison Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016, in San Quentin, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

The EIP program was part of the CARES Act, a federal relief bill signed into law on March 27, 2020, to address the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the EIP provision of the CARES Act, individuals who made less than $99,000 on their 2019 tax returns and those whose income was sufficiently low that a tax return filing was not required (known as nonfilers) were eligible to receive EIP funds. EIP payments amounted to as much as $1,200 per adult and $500 for a qualifying child.

In her plea agreement, Dunlap admitted that she conspired from March 2020 through July 2020 with her son to obtain the personal identifiable information to apply for EIP funds, according to the press release.

Dunlap's son was serving a capital sentence on death row in San Quentin State Prison. He was identified only as D.W. in the press release and his current custodial status was not released.

Dunlap admitted in her plea agreement that her son sent her the personal information of his fellow prisoners and other individuals whom they suspected might qualify as nonfilers of 2018 or 2019 income tax returns, thus making them eligible for EIP funds. Dunlap admitted she used that personally identifiable information to file multiple fraudulent claims for EIP funds through the Internal Revenue Service's online EIP Portal. In each of the applications, Dunlap listed her own Bank of America account to receive the payments.

Dunlap detailed in her plea agreement that in or about April 2020, her son coordinated with another person to email her a spreadsheet containing the personal information of 9,043 people, according to the press release.

Her son advised Dunlap to file the fraudulent EIP claims by first using the information of the youngest adults listed. D.W. and Dunlap assessed that these younger, college-age individuals probably lacked income sufficient to trigger the filing of a 2018 or 2019 tax return and were accordingly likely nonfilers eligible for EIP payments.

Dunlap admitted that she filed 121 EIP claims that resulted in $145,200 in payments directly to her bank account.

The wire fraud conspiracy conviction carries a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or not more than the greater of twice the gross gain or twice the gross loss. The count of aggravated identity theft carries a penalty of two years imprisonment consecutive to any other sentence imposed and a maximum fine of $250,000.

Dunlap is scheduled for her sentencing hearing before U.S. District Judge Susan Illston on June 24, 2022. She remains out of custody.

(c)2022 The Modesto Bee (Modesto, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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