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Baltimore woman pleads guilty in unemployment fraud case

A Baltimore woman pleaded guilty Tuesday in connection with a scheme to steal more than $400,000 in Maryland unemployment benefits, the Maryland U.S. attorney's office said.

Shekia Denise Edwards, 25, was one of three charged in the incident. Co-conspirators Kevin Bernard Smith and Sheila Denis Willis, also of Baltimore, had earlier pleaded guilty.

According to their plea agreements, the women filed false unemployment insurance claims using Social Security numbers and other information belonging to Marylanders unconnected with the scheme. To make it appear that these workers had been laid off, Smith created fictitious Maryland businesses, such as the "Maryland Institute of Charity," and sent the state false quarterly reports from these nonexistent firms, the Maryland U.S. attorney's office said.

The defendants created jobless-benefit accounts for the fake firms worth about $409,000, and they drew on about $88,500 of it through purchases or cash withdrawals from ATMs, prosecutors said.

Smith coordinated the effort while he was behind bars at the Baltimore City Central Booking and Intake Facility, the Maryland U.S. attorney's office said. He is scheduled for sentencing Dec. 11.

Edwards and Willis are both scheduled for sentencing in January.

jhopkins@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jsmithhopkins

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