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South Carolina man sentenced to federal prison for unemployment fraud

Christina Lee Knauss //May 1, 2023//

South Carolina man sentenced to federal prison for unemployment fraud

Christina Lee Knauss //May 1, 2023//

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A Florence man and a woman from Florida have been sentenced after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud related to unemployment insurance benefits.

Mohammad Ribhi Farraj, 43, of Florence and Marvet Masoud, 34, of Homestead, Fla., were sentenced by U.S. District Judge Joseph Dawson III, according to a news release.

Evidence presented to the court showed that Farraj and Masoud engaged in a scheme with others to fraudulently obtain unemployment insurance benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic.  As part of the scheme, members of the conspiracy submitted applications in four states – Arizona, New York, Florida, and South Carolina – using the personal identifying information of other individuals, sometimes without the person’s permission.  In some instances, members of the conspiracy would apply for benefits in multiple states using the same individual’s information. 

Members of the conspiracy then received the funds associated with the fraudulent claims, primarily through either direct deposit or debit cards, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.  The investigation revealed a total of 69 fraudulent claims associated with the scheme, resulting in a total loss of $454,074.00 in unemployment insurance funds.  Through this scheme, defendants exploited the flexibility afforded to those unemployed during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Evidence presented in court showed  Farraj obtained debit cards with unemployment insurance funds which were associated with the fraudulent claims and then withdrew the funds at ATMs.  In addition, he fraudulently obtained an Economic Injury Disaster Loan under the name of a fictitious business, the release said.  After receiving a deposit of $149,900, Farraj transferred the funds to cryptocurrency accounts or used the funds to pay credit card bills. 

Masoud completed withdrawals of funds associated with fraudulent unemployment insurance benefits claims and also received a deposit of $9,321.00 into an account in her name, according to court records.  The deposit was also associated with a fraudulent claim. 

Farraj was sentenced to ten months, with five months to be served in the Bureau of Prisons and five months to be served on home detention with location monitoring, followed by a three-year term of court-ordered supervision.  There is no parole in the federal system.  Farraj was ordered to pay $604,074.00 in restitution. 

Masoud was sentenced to 24 months of probation and ordered to pay $454,074.00 in restitution. 

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Labor, the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, the New York State Department of Labor, the Arizona Department of Economic Security, and the Small Business Administration. Assistant U.S. Attorney Lauren Hummel is prosecuting the case.