BOSTON – A Lawrence woman pleaded guilty today in connection with her involvement in a scheme to fraudulently obtain COVID-19-related unemployment assistance.

Raquel Pena, 40, pleaded guilty to wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. U.S. District Court Judge William G. Young scheduled sentencing for Nov. 4, 2021. Pena was charged on April 1, 2021.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, created a temporary federal unemployment insurance program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA.

PUA, administered by the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance, provides unemployment insurance benefits for individuals who are not eligible for other types of unemployment benefits (e.g., the self-employed, independent contractors or gig economy workers).

Pena and others conspired to file fraudulent claims for PUA using others’ personally identifiable information. Pena recruited acquaintances to receive the proceeds of the fraudulent claims into their bank accounts, withdraw all or a portion of those funds and give the cash to Pena. The investigation connected Pena and her co-conspirators to more than $360,000 in unemployment claims between May 2020 and March 2021.

The charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud each provide for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, up to three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. The charge of aggravated identity theft provides for a mandatory sentence of two years in prison to be served consecutively to any other sentenced imposed, one year of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

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 (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.

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