Prosecutors: Woman serving life led $2M unemployment fraud scheme
The fraud ring used stolen identities to collect COVID-related unemployment benefits
By Gregory Yee
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — Federal authorities charged 13 people and arrested five in connection with a California unemployment insurance benefits scheme they believe netted at least $2 million under the direction of a state prison inmate.
Natalie Le DeMola, a 37-year-old serving a life sentence for first-degree murder, was named as the ringleader, the U.S. attorney's office for the Central District of California said Tuesday. Carleisha Neosha Plummer, a 32-year-old Los Angeles resident and close associate of DeMola, was also named by authorities.
A 39-count indictment charges DeMola, Plummer and 11 others with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, prosecutors said. The conspiracy count alleges 150 overt acts, including illegally obtaining personal identifying information, some of which prosecutors allege was provided by an unnamed state prison employee.
The indictment also names various defendants in 31 bank fraud counts and seven aggravated identity theft counts.
According to authorities, the fraud ring used stolen identities, including some belonging to state prison inmates, to collect unemployment benefits, most of which were pandemic-related relief, during the second half of 2020.
Members of the fraud ring "would acquire (information), such as the names, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers, of individuals, including identity theft victims, who were not eligible for [unemployment insurance] benefits, including pandemic benefits, because they were employed, retired, or incarcerated," the indictment alleges.
The conspirators used the information to apply online for benefits from the California Employment Development Department, prosecutors alleged.
After applications were approved, the defendants were able to withdraw money from ATMs across Southern California, according to the indictment.
DeMola, originally of Corona, was already in state prison as of the recent federal indictment, prosecutors said.
She was a teenager when she, her boyfriend and an acquaintance conspired to kill her mother in April 2001, court documents show.
At the time, DeMola, then 16, was a swimmer at Centennial High School and frequently argued with her mother about her relationship with her 17-year-old boyfriend, Terry Lee Bell, according to a federal magistrate judge's report filed in 2015 in response to a request for post-conviction relief.
After DeMola's mother yelled at her daughter and took her home upon finding her at a fast-food restaurant with Bell and 17-year-old Christopher Long, the two teen boys joked about "torturing" DeMola's mother, and DeMola and Bell communicated through email and instant messages for weeks about her mother until April 10, 2001, according to the report.
On that day, the couple and Long beat DeMola's mother to death, according to a state appeals court opinion published in 2007. Police found DeMola's mother unconscious on the floor at home in a pool of blood. Her ribs, nose, jaw and skull were broken.
DeMola and Bell were found guilty of first-degree murder with lying-in-wait and torture-murder special circumstances, and were sentenced to life without parole. Long was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to 25 years to life. Several petitions by the defendants for post-conviction relief have proved unsuccessful. State prison records show they remain incarcerated.
In the unemployment benefits case, co-defendant Plummer had been paroled in July 2020 and was arrested Tuesday.
The other defendants named in the indictment are:
— Khanshanda King, 31, of Los Angeles, who remains at large.
— Cleshay Johnson II, 28, of Los Angeles, who remains at large.
— James Antonio Johnson, 31, of Los Angeles, who has several aliases including "Big Dawg Niddy" and is in custody in a Los Angeles County jail.
— Felicite Aleisha King, 41, of Los Angeles, who remains at large.
— Shafequah Lynete Mitchell, 33, of Los Angeles, who is traveling outside California.
— Loresha Shamone Davis, 31, of Moreno Valley, who was arrested Tuesday.
— Porsha Latrice Johnson, 32, of Lynwood, who was arrested Tuesday.
— Donisha Lashawn Pace, 38, of South Los Angeles, who was arrested Tuesday.
— Dominique Charmone Martin, 37, of Yucaipa, who remains at large.
— Mykara Destiny Robertson, 23, of Los Angeles, who remains at large.
— Amber Jane Wade, 34, of Palmdale, who was arrested Tuesday.
The conspiracy and bank fraud charges each carry a statutory maximum sentence of 30 years in federal prison, prosecutors said. Aggravated identity theft carries a mandatory two-year consecutive sentence.
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