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May 19, 2022Los Angeles, CA, United StatesCovid-19, Financial Crimes

ICE HSI Task Force busts $2 million unemployment fraud scheme

Woman serving life sentence orchestrated scam from prison

LOS ANGELES — Investigators with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) led El Camino Real Financial Crimes Task Force arrested five people Tuesday. All are linked to a ring that allegedly obtained at least $2 million in California unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. Most of that money came from pandemic-related relief funds and used the stolen identities of California prison inmates.

“While most of the world was suffering due to COVID, these defendants sought to enrich themselves,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Eddy Wang. “HSI Los Angeles and its partners are committed to ensuring that criminals and criminal organizations do not profit off the misery caused by the pandemic.”

The arrests were made pursuant to a 39-count indictment that charges 13 defendants in a scheme to use personal identifying information (PII) to fraudulently apply for, and receive, unemployment benefits, mainly during the second half of 2020.

The lead defendant is 37-year-old Natalie Le Demola. She is currently serving a life prison sentence after she was convicted in 2005 of first-degree murder. 32-year-old Carleisha Neosha Plummer of Los Angeles is also charged. She was a close associate of Demola in prison until she was paroled in July 2020.

Investigators say Demola, Plummer and other coconspirators would acquire the names, dates of birth, and social security numbers of people, including identity theft victims, who were not eligible for UI benefits, including pandemic benefits, because they were employed, retired, or incarcerated, the indictment alleges.

Members of the conspiracy then allegedly used the information to make fraudulent online applications for UI benefits from the California Employment Development Department (EDD). Once the applications were approved, they received debit cards that were funded by the EDD and allowed them to withdraw money from ATMs across Southern California.

The indictment charges 13 defendants with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud. The conspiracy count alleges 150 overt acts, including illegally obtaining PII, some of which were provided by an unnamed prison official employed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The indictment names various defendants in 31 bank fraud counts and seven aggravated identity theft counts.

The defendants named in the indictment are:

  • Demola, originally of Corona
  • Plummer, 32, of Los Angeles
  • Khanshanda King, 31, of Los Angeles
  • Cleshay Johnson II, 28, of Los Angeles
  • James Antonio Johnson, who has several aliases, including “Big Dawg Niddy,” 31, of Los Angeles
  • Felicite Aleisha King, 41, of Los Angeles
  • Shafequah Lynete Mitchell, 33, of Los Angeles
  • Loresha Shamone Davis, 31, of Moreno Valley
  • Porsha Latrice Johnson, 32, of Lynwood
  • Donisha Lashawn Pace, 38, of South Los Angeles
  • Dominique Charmone Martin, 37, of Yucaipa
  • Amber Jane Wade, 34, of Palmdale

The conspiracy and bank fraud charges each carry a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison. Aggravated identity theft carries a mandatory two-year consecutive sentence.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through international trade, travel, and finance.