September 02, 2020
Four people in Chester County who allegedly conspired to fraudulently obtain COVID-19 benefits for inmates at the Chester County Prison and other correctional institutions are now facing federal charges.
Beginning in late March with the passage of the federal CARES Act, investigators said 37-year-old Jennifer D'Hulster and 30-year-old Ashley Harrington helped inmates receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance – or PUA.
The program provides unemployment benefits to those not eligible for regular unemployment compensation, as well as extended unemployment benefits to those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the eligibility requirements, a person must be unemployment for reasons related to the pandemic. Those who receive assistance must be able to work and demonstrate efforts to find a job by submitting weekly certifications.
According to a criminal complaint, Harrington allegedly enabled 30-year-old Zachary Gathercole, an inmate, to receive approximately $12,865 in unemployment benefits. Together, D'Hulster and Gathercole allegedly enabled another unidentified inmate to receive approximately $11,410, and they attempted, unsuccessfully, to collect benefits for another inmate.
Anthony Schweitzer, 20, another inmate, allegedly attempted to obtain benefits on several occasions, prosecutors said.
"Sadly, fraudsters consider a national public health crisis as an opportunity to cash in," U.S. Attorney William McSwain said. "That callous attitude rips off honest taxpayers who fund relief programs and also makes it much more difficult to provide funds to those who deserve and need them. My office will do everything in its power to ensure that coronavirus fraud scams are stopped and punished."
Fraudulent claims for PUA have been rampant in recent months in the United States. Late last month, state and federal authorities said that as many as 10,000 incarcerated people in Pennsylvania had attempted to collect benefits, often by providing information to a girlfriend or family member.
In a separate investigation, 33 Pennsylvania residents, including some inmates, were charged in alleged schemes to fraudulently receive unemployment benefits, Attorney General Josh Shapiro and U.S. Attorney Scott Brady said.
Brady said the charges last month represented the "tip of the iceberg" in what could be as much as $100,000 million in fraud.
If convicted of the conspiracy and fraud in connection with emergency benefits charges, D'Hulster, Gathercole, Harrington, and Schweitzer each face up to 60 years' imprisonment, a $2,000,000 fine, and five years of supervised release following any imprisonment.