AG: 3 York County residents involved in COVID-19 unemployment benefits scam
Three York County residents are among 20 people criminally charged for alleged involvement in organized rings that fraudulently obtained COVID-19 unemployment benefits, according to the state Attorney General's office.
Last week's arrests are linked to at least two existing rings, composed of prison inmates and outside accomplices who conspired to submit scam unemployment applications to the state, according to a news release from Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
It's the second such round of arrests across Pennsylvania by the AG's office, which stated the scams netted about $300,000.
The inmates being charged are in three state prisons in central and eastern Pennsylvania, and the investigation remains active, officials said.
The first ring, which is the larger one, operated out of the state prison in Benner Township in Centre County, the news release states.
It was headed up by two ringleaders — one in the prison, one free — and eight co-conspirators, the AG's office alleges. Ringleaders applied for COVID-19 unemployment benefits on behalf of inmates who provided their personal information.
In exchange for that information, the ringleaders gave inmates a portion of the fraudulently obtained benefits, according to the AG's office.
One of those inmates was Ronald E. Baker, 53, of Glen Rock, who received more than $13,000 in unemployment compensation benefits, officials allege.
In all, the Centre County ring obtained about $153,500 in unemployment benefits, the news release states.
Second ring: The second ring involved inmates at SCI Mahanoy, one of two state prisons located near Frackville, Schuylkill County.
The AG's office identified the ringleaders as Wendy Danfora, 33, of the 900 block of South Pine Street in York City, and her boyfriend, Markal Munford, 30, also of York, who is currently incarcerated at SCI Mahanoy on York County convictions, court records state.
Munford's convictions are for charges including being a felon in illegal possession of a firearm and felony possession of a controlled substance while in prison, court records state.
Danfora, Munford and two other inmates were involved in collecting inmates' personal information to fraudulently obtain COVID-19 unemployment benefits, the AG's office alleges.
"As part of the scheme, Danfora gave a portion of the benefits to the inmates but kept the majority for her personal use," the news release states.
In all, the SCI Mahanoy ring scammed the state out of $109,900, officials allege.
"Between Danfora and Munford, they are responsible for at least 13 fraudulent filings, which total $78,994," according to a news release from the AG's office said.
37 charges: Danfora is charged with 37 offenses, including 12 felonies. The charges include being part of a corrupt organization, theft, receiving stolen property, tampering with public records and multiple counts of making false statements under penalty, according to court records.
Those court records state she was arraigned Wednesday and that she is being held at Dauphin County Prison with her bail set at $50,000. It was not clear if she had retained an attorney. Her preliminary hearing is scheduled for Oct. 2 before District Judge Domnic Pelino in Dauphin County.
Munford faces 10 counts, including being part of a corrupt organization and criminal use of a communication facility, according to online records. He had not been arraigned by Sunday.
Six other inmates with no known links to fraud rings have been arrested as well, officials said.
Ringleaders could face decades in prison if convicted of all charges, according to Shapiro's office.
— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at email@example.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.