SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) – A Modesto woman pleaded guilty in a San Francisco federal courtroom Friday to engaging in a conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in filing more than $145,000 in stimulus check claims.
Sheila Denise Dunlap, 51, was charged by a federal indictment last May with engaging in wire fraud conspiracy to file scores of fraudulent applications for Economic Impact (EIP) payments, more commonly known as stimulus checks.
The EIP program was part of the CARES Act, a federal relief bill signed into law in March 2020 to address the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the EIP provision of the CARES Act, individuals who made less than $99,000 on their 2019 income tax returns and those whose income was sufficiently low that a tax return filing was not required were eligible to receive EIP funds. EIP payments amounted to as much as $1,200 per adult and $500 for a qualifying child.
In her plea agreement, Dunlap admitted that she conspired between March 2020 and July 2020 with her son to obtain the personal identifiable information (PII) of others and to use that information to apply for EIP funds. Dunlap’s son was serving a capital prison sentence at that time on Death Row at San Quentin State Prison.
Dunlap admitted in her plea agreement that her son, identified in the agreement only as D.W., sent her the personal identifiable information of his fellow prisoners along with the same type of information for others whom they suspected might qualify as non-filers of 2018 or 2019 income tax returns, thus making them eligible for EIP funds.
Dunlap admitted she used the information to file multiple fraudulent claims for EIP funds through the Internal Revenue Service’s online EIP portal. In each of the applications, Dunlap listed her own Bank of America account to receive the payments.
Dunlap detailed in her plea agreement that in or about April 2020, her son coordinated with another to email her a spreadsheet containing the PII of 9,043 individuals.
Her son advised Dunlap to file the fraudulent EIP claims by first using the PII of the youngest adults listed. Both D.W. and Dunlap assessed that these younger, college-aged individuals probably lacked income sufficient to trigger the filing of a 2018 or 2019 tax return and were accordingly likely non-filers eligible for EIP payments.
Dunlap admitted that in May and June of 2020, she used the information belonging to the real individuals — details of which included their names and social security numbers — to electronically file 121 EIP claims. She admitted that each EIP claim contained false statements and directed payment to her bank account. Dunlap filed claims totaling $145,200 in EIP payments.
Dunlap pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud conspiracy, which carries a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. She also pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated identity theft, which carries a penalty of two years in prison consecutive to any other sentence imposed, plus a maximum fine of $250,000.
Currently out of custody, Dunlap will be sentenced June 24.
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