SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Prosecutors say California’s system for paying unemployment benefits is so dysfunctional that the state approved more than $140 million for at least 20,000 prisoners.
On Tuesday, they detailed a scheme resulting in payouts in the names of well-known convicted murderers like Scott Peterson, who was sentenced to death after being found guilty of killing his pregnant wife. His death sentence has since been overturned and a court is reviewing his conviction.
Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said at least 158 claims were made for 133 death-row inmates, resulting in more than $420,000 in benefits paid.
“It involves rapists and child molesters, human traffickers and other violent criminals in our state prisons,” said Schubert. “Hundreds of millions of dollars that may well amount to upwards to $1 billion, having already been paid in their names.”
Schubert said the scheme will be one of the biggest frauds of taxpayer dollars in California history.
“And with this fraud means that victims that have been victimized by these inmates aren’t getting the restitution that they so deservedly have been owed,” said Schubert.
So far, at least 22 people have been charged in San Mateo County, The Associated Press found. More charges could be forthcoming as several other investigations continue across the state.
Prosecutors say the Employment Development Department has been overwhelmed by benefit claims since the pandemic began, and in its haste to approve them, didn't check unemployment claims against a list of prisoners.
Gov. Gavin Newsom says he's already ordered the department to review its practices and act to prevent fraud.
Watch Schubert and other prosecutors discuss the scheme below: