2 Charged With Stealing Over $1M in Unemployment Benefits, Business Loans During Pandemic

Two Seattle residents have been accused of stealing over $1 million in COVID-19 benefits, the Associated Press reported.

Bryan Sparks and Autumn Luna are charged with stealing at least $500,000 in unemployment benefits and $520,000 in Small Business Administration loans. The charges were laid out in a 16-count indictment filed in U.S. District Court.

Prosecutors said that the scheme lasted from March of 2020 to at least January of 2021, with the pair using stolen Social Security numbers to file false unemployment claims. They also are accused of applying for federal Economic Injury Disaster Loans. More than a dozen cellphones and several addresses from across Washington state were also allegedly used.

Sparks and Luna face charges of conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft. A court date has not been determined. Prosecutors have not ruled out the possibility of there being other participants in the fraud, according to the filed indictment.

The case is just one of many fraud cases that have rocked Washington state over the past year. Former Employment Security Department employee Reyes De La Cruz II was charged in September with stealing at least $360,000 in benefits.

Other notable recent but unrelated cases occurred in Nigeria, where Abidemi Rufai was accused of stealing more than $350,000 in unemployment benefits from Washington, and IT engineer Chukwuemeka Onyegbula was charged with stealing about $290,000 in benefits from Washington and other states.

Similar COVID relief scams have been occurring in other states. Damara Holness, the daughter of Florida congressional candidate Dale Holness, recently pleaded guilty to receiving $300,000 in relief loans after submitting false information. She will be sentenced on January 20, 2022.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Social Security Boost
Bryan Sparks and Autumn Luna of Seattle, Washington, are accused of using stolen Social Security numbers to apply for unemployment benefits and Small Business Administration loans. Jenny Kane/AP Photo

The jobless benefits charge appears to be the largest in dollar terms so far stemming from Washington state paying out over $647 million in pandemic-related fraudulent claims. Some $370 million has been recovered, state officials have said.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle said Luna and Sparks were arrested June 22 in Washington, D.C. The Seattle Times reported that they were in possession of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine at the time of their arrest.

Sparks and Luna had proceeds mailed to those addresses or deposited in bank accounts opened using stolen personal information, prosecutors say.

It wasn't clear whether Sparks and Luna had an attorney to speak on their behalf.

A lawyer for Rufai has said he denies any involvement.

Attempts to locate an attorney for De La Cruz and Onyegbula haven't been successful.