Pennsylvania Man Sentenced to Prison for Pandemic Fraud Offenses

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SCRANTON, PA — The United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced that Julio Pozo Gonzalez, age 30, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, was sentenced on February 7, 2023, by United States District Court Judge Malachy E. Mannion, to 30 months imprisonment for committing mail and wire fraud and identity theft related to pandemic unemployment fraud.

The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program was created by the March 2020 CARES Act, as part of the United States government’s efforts to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the public’s health and economic well-being.  The PUA program was designed to provide unemployment benefits to individuals not eligible for regular unemployment compensation or extended unemployment benefits.

According to United States Attorney Gerard M. Karam, on July 29, 2021, Pozo Gonzalez pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit mail and wire fraud and committing aggravated identity theft.  From July 2020 through February 2021, Gonzalez and unindicted co-conspirators used stolen identification information to apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for their own use and benefit.

On February 20, 2021, Julio Pozo Gonzalez was stopped by Pennsylvania State troopers and gave consent to search his vehicle. Officers recovered a black pouch under the driver seat that contained 17 United States bank debit cards and more than $3,000. Julio Pozo Gonzalez agreed to speak with investigators and consented to a search of his cellular telephone. It was determined that 17 debit cards in the names and identities stolen by Pozo Gonzalez, and co-conspirators were used to apply for pandemic unemployment benefits. Pozo Gonzalez was identified as an individual on video surveillance who obtained cash at automated teller machines.  A total of $269,777 in fraudulent benefits were deposited into the 17 fraudulently obtained accounts.

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The conspirators received debit cards in the names of identities stolen during the conspiracy through the United States mail. Gonzalez used the fraudulently obtained debit cards to withdraw money from ATMs within the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Pozo Gonzalez and conspirators intended to obtain more than $269,000 as part of the scheme.

As part of the sentence, Pozo Gonzalez was also ordered to pay $267,777 in restitution.

This pandemic fraud case was investigated by the Pennsylvania State Police and by the Department of Labor, Office of the Inspector General. Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd K. Hinkley prosecuted the case.

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