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Baltimore man sentenced to five years for unemployment fraud

A 48-year-old Baltimore man was sentenced to five years in prison for fraudulently claiming hundreds of thousands of dollars in unemployment benefits from the state using false identities, a scheme he conducted in part while already behind bars on unrelated charges, according to the Maryland U.S. attorney's office.

Kevin Bernard Smith, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit access device fraud and aggravated identity theft, will also have to serve three years of supervised release, prosecutors said.

Two Baltimore women who also pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the scheme are scheduled to be sentenced next month, prosecutors said.

Smith and the women also must each pay $88,500 in restitution.

According to prosecutors and plea agreements in the case, Smith and the women — Sheila Denise Willis, 48, and Shekia Denise Edwards, 25 — worked together to fraudulently claim at least $409,000 in unemployment benefits from the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation under false identities after creating fictitious Maryland companies.

Smith created the companies, Edwards assisted him in obtaining Maryland residents' names and Willis falsely represented her employment status within the fake companies, prosecutors said. They then filed for unemployment status using the stolen names, pretending they had been employees at the fictitious companies.

The scheme "usually used the personal identifiers of actual Maryland residents without their permission, including their names and dates of birth," prosecutors said.

In response to some of the claims, the DLLR issued pre-paid Visa cards, which the trio used to obtain $88,500 in purchases and cash.

During part of the scheme, Smith was in central booking in Baltimore.

"Despite his incarceration, his recorded conversation establishes that he continued to oversee and coordinate the use of the fraudulently obtained Visa debit cards by his co-defendants and others," prosecutors said.

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