A Detroit woman who was hired to help process unemployment claims during the pandemic has admitted she used her job to steal more than $300,000 from taxpayers — money that was supposed to help keep people afloat during the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis.
Semaje Reffigee, 26, who worked from home as a contractor for the Michigan unemployment agency, pleaded guilty Wednesday to wire fraud conspiracy, admitting she pulled off an inside job that bilked $313,497 from the government.
According to court documents, Reffigee was hired by the state in October 2020 to review, process, and verify that unemployment claims were legitimate. But over the next seven months, records show, she would go rogue, using her access to the agency’s database to access and approve 34 fraudulent claims submitted by others.
They weren’t strangers. They were in cahoots with one another.
Scammers used stolen or fake identities to apply for jobless aid
According to court records, here is how the scheme worked:
Reffigee’s cohorts would submit phony unemployment claims by computer to the unemployment agency, using the names of people whose identities they had stolen or names that they had entirely made up. Her accomplices would lie on applications for unemployment benefits, pretending they had lost their jobs due to COVID-19, using fake documents to support the claims.
The scammers would then alert Reffigee by phone or text about the claims that they had filed. And Reffigee would then approve the claims and release the money, which typically was loaded onto Bank of America debit cards and mailed to addresses controlled by Reffigee’s accomplices. Sometimes the stolen benefits went directly into bank accounts.
In exchange for her help, Reffigee got a kickback, typically a few hundred bucks per claim. She also filed two fraudulent unemployment claims in her own name and received about $9,000 for them.
Prosecutors said Reffigee reactivated claims that had been flagged for fraud within the system, and also went outside her assigned workflow to approve fraudulent claims when they were first filed.
“This case reflects our ongoing commitment to prosecute those who took advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic by stealing funds intended for those in need. We treat this kind of fraud especially seriously because corruption within these programs undermines trust and confidence in government programs generally,” U.S. Attorney Dawn Ison stated in announcing the guilty plea.
Added Irene Lindow, head of the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General in Chicago: “She abused her position for personal gain by using her access to state data systems to approve fraudulent UI claims submitted by her co-conspirators … Protecting the integrity of the unemployment insurance program remains one of our highest priorities.”Reffigee, who is scheduled to be sentenced in July, faces up to 20 years in prison for her crime and a fine of up to $250,000. Under the terms of her plea agreement, will also be required to repay $313,497 — the amount she stole — to the state of Michigan.
Reffigee is free on bond awaiting sentencing. Neither she nor her attorney could be reached for comment.
Tresa Baldas: email@example.com