fresno federal court

published on May 6, 2021 - 12:58 PM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

A Fresno man pleaded guilty to mail fraud that included a scheme to fraudulently receive unemployment benefits.

Garrett Scott Wheelen, 30, perpetrated a mail fraud scheme from August to November 2020 by submitting false Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims with the state Employment Development Department, according to federal court documents.

He used personally identifiable information from individuals to submit the assistance claims, some of which were approved by the state, which caused Bank of America to mail debit cards loaded with the unemployment benefits to an address under his control.

According to court documents, there were at least two victims whose names were used to receive unemployment benefits. One was a teacher who was sent a total of $1,620 in benefits that Wheelen acquired. Another knew Wheelen, and had asked him for assistance in applying for benefits, but never received money and didn’t hear from him again. That victim had $12,150 in benefits sent that were acquired by Wheelen.

Additionally, Wheelen engaged in a scheme that involved stealing U.S. mail and harvesting bankcards, financial information, checks and personal information for use in fraudulent activity. For example, on Sept. 4, 2020, he was in possession of California State driver’s licenses, credit cards, and checks that he had stolen from U.S. mail. At least some of this mail came into his possession when he broke into a mail truck in Fresno on Aug. 11, 2020.

This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the California EDD’s Investigation Division, and the Reedley Police Department. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert J. Artuz is prosecuting the case.

Wheelen is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Dale A. Drozd on July 30. Wheelen faces a maximum statutory penalty of 25 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.

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