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Former federal employee sentenced for massive unemployment scheme

A former federal employee was sentenced this week after taking over $2 million in unemployment benefits during the pandemic.
Unemployment forms from the state of California.
Posted at 1:55 PM, Aug 24, 2023

A former federal employee was sentenced to 18 years in prison for leading a conspiracy to take $3.5 million in unemployment benefits from five states.

According to federal prosecutors, Heather Huffman tried to defraud the states of Washington, Virginia, California and two other states out of millions in unemployment aid during the pandemic. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Eastern Virginia said Huffman targeted expanded unemployment programs that were in place during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Prosecutors added that they believe Huffman led and organized others, including family and friends, to take unemployment benefits. 

Prosecutors said Huffman used aliases from identity theft victims, witting co-conspirators and inmates. The U.S. Attorney said she also included false wage and employment history on the fraudulent unemployment applications.

All told, she is accused of filing 220 applications using 120 names. She actually obtained over $2 million in the $3.5 million she claimed in unemployment. 

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The suspect also falsely claimed to be a board-certified "anti-aging medical doctor" with a degree in immunology and naturopathic medicine.


Her sentencing was delayed after she did not appear for her November 2022 hearing. The U.S. Attorney's Office said Huffman procured counterfeit government identification and fake credit cards. 

She was apprehended in March in Kansas City. 

“Huffman organized a massive (Virginia Employment Commission) fraud conspiracy and abused her position as a federal employee to steal funds meant for those struggling with employment security and the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said U.S. Attorney Jessica D. Aber. “To add insult to injury, when her time came to be held accountable at her initial sentencing hearing, she fled from the law. I am grateful today for the efforts of our law enforcement and prosecutorial team in ensuring Huffman and her co-defendants face the consequences of their selfish actions.”

Huffman faced a maximum sentence of 32 years. 

Prior to her conviction, she was a registered nurse at the Veterans Affairs Hunter Holmes McGuire Medical Center in Richmond, Virginia. 

The Department of Justice said on Wednesday that it has taken over 700 enforcement actions involving $836 million in fraud related to COVID-19 benefits. 

During the pandemic, the federal government provided an extra $600 per week in unemployment, which was in addition to typical unemployment benefits. The government also made unemployment available for workers typically ineligible for unemployment benefits, such as contract workers and those who were self-employed.