A Menifee woman admitted in federal court Wednesday, Dec. 16, that she fraudulently obtained more than a half-million dollars in state unemployment benefits in just six months.
Cara Kirk-Connell, 32, faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison when she is sentenced April 9 in U.S. District Court in Riverside on a single federal charge of use of an unauthorized access device, the U.S. Justice Department said in a news release.
Kirk-Connell admitted using more than 50 stolen names and Social Security numbers to net $534,149 that the state is distributing under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. She had spent $270,000 before her arrest. She also helped others file fraudulent claims, the release said.
Kirk-Connell purchased some of the identities on the dark web and watched a YouTube video that taught viewers how to steal the benefits. Friends and others “loaned” them their Social Security numbers, the DOJ said.
The scheme began to unravel on Sept. 10 during a traffic stop in Murrieta.
Kirk-Connell’s boyfriend was driving the car belonging to Kirk-Connell, who was a passenger, according to the criminal complaint written by U.S. Department of Labor Special Agent Marcus Valle. The boyfriend, identified in a bail document as Rocky Asbury, had a warrant for his arrest, as did Kirk-Connell.
Inside the car, officers found unemployment benefits debit cards issued in others’ names, a gun, illegal drugs, $28,000 in cash and a key to a storage unit, the complaint said.
Asbury was arrested, but Kirk-Connell was not. Instead, police placed a tracking device on her car. The next day, she showed up at Life Storage in Wildomar, where Kirk-Connell was arrested on the warrant. Officers found eight more benefits debit cards in the car, the complaint said.
As a condition of her release on bond, Kirk-Connell was required to first live at a sober living home. She also must stay away from Asbury.
Kirk-Connell has been convicted of identity theft before.
She has convictions for grand theft of identities and possession of identities of more than 10 people with intent to defraud, as well as convictions for driving under the influence, inflicting corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant, possession of a controlled substance and child cruelty, the complaint said.
Source: Orange County Register