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Two Marylanders among six indicted in $1.5 million unemployment insurance scheme

Six people, including two from Maryland, have been indicted on fraud and identity theft charges in a $1.5 million unemployment insurance scheme, federal prosecutors said.

They were identified as Diameter Jeffrey Akala, 42, of Silver Spring; Ferny Alexander Moreno Puente, 23, of Gaithersburg; Wilfred Mendez, 21, of the Bronx, N.Y.; Eric Gonzalez, 33, of Alexandria, Va.; Tawana McClain, 50, of Washington, D.C.; Wilfredo Torres, 35, of Alexandria, Va. Three other defendants have already pleaded guilty in the scheme.

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From March 2012 to May 2015, the six allegedly used other people's names and created fake companies to collect unemployment benefits from the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation and the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, the U.S. Attorney's office in Maryland said.

Akala is accused of filing false documentation with the two labor departments in the name of the fake companies, then using stolen identities of real people to claim they were on the companies' payrolls, prosectors said. The companies, prosecutors said, did not pay unemployment insurance taxes.

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Some of the people suspected in the conspiracy called the labor departments as representatives for the companies and allowed their home addresses to be used in exchange for prepaid debit cards, which were fraudulently obtained with the insurance money, prosecutors said.

The indictment, unsealed Monday, seeks a forfeiture of at least the $1.5 million allegedly taken in the scheme, prosecutors said.

Akala, Mendez, Gonzalez, McClain, Moreno Puente and Torres face up to 20 years in prison for conspiring to commit wire fraud and for wire fraud, prosecutors said. Akala and Mendez also face a minimum of two years in prison for aggravated identity theft, which would run consecutive to any other sentence.

Moreno Puente and Torres were expected to appear Monday in a Virginia federal court; Gonzalez was expected to have his initial appearance Monday in Greenbelt.

Akala is detained pending a hearing Tuesday, prosecutors said. McClain and Mendez were released under the supervision of pretrial services.

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