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Former state worker, 3 associates, facing felony charges related to pandemic unemployment bribery scheme

State estimates $1 billion in PUA fraud
Unemployment in Ohio
Posted at 6:06 PM, Feb 10, 2023

HAMILTON COUNTY — Four people, including a former ODJFS worker, were indicted on felony charges related to allegations they stole Pandemic Unemployment Assistance funds through a bribery and fraud scheme, according to an indictment filed in the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas Wednesday.

Donesha Shepard, an intermittent state employee who processed PUA claims between May 24, 2021 to on or about Sept. 6, 2021, allegedly accepted bribes in exchange for processing 41 unauthorized claims for pandemic unemployment assistance, according to the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office.

The PUA program was created by Congress at the state of the pandemic to assist workers who do not qualify for traditional unemployment benefits.

Three individuals received the illegal payments, which totaled between $150,000 and $750,000, and then paid Shepard for the money they received, according to Hamilton County Public Information Officer and Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Amy Clausing.

Shepard faces four felony charges, including theft, tampering with records, telecommunications fraud, and bribery.

Her associates each face three felony charges, including one count each of theft, telecommunications fraud, and bribery.

All of the charges are third-degree felonies.

The alleged scheme is just a tiny drop in the bucket when to pandemic unemployment fraud.

ODJFS released a report Friday estimating the total amount of PUA fraud at $1 billion.

An ODJFS spokespersons said the department has improved internal and external controls to prevent additional fraud and is working with investigators on other potential unemployment fraud cases.

ODJFS Director Matt Damschroder released the following statement:

"We are pleased with news of the indictment of four individuals in conjunction with fraud in the pandemic unemployment assistance program. This is not a victimless crime. These individuals allegedly stole from taxpayers. Fraud schemes also harmed legitimate unemployment claimants who were hurting during the pandemic by making it harder to receive needed benefits in a timely fashion. When we discovered that individuals like these may have been illegally abusing their access to our systems, we took immediate action to stop it and work with law enforcement to investigate and prosecute it. We thank all those agencies who helped bring this about and will continue working to ensure more criminals are brought to justice."

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