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O.C. man gets 7 years in prison for using stolen identities in $1.2 million Covid-benefits scheme

A Santa Ana man was sentenced Monday to seven years in federal prison for using two dozen stolen identities to apply for $1.2 million in COVID-related jobless benefits and fraudulently receiving more than $400,000 from the pandemic-era government program.

Nham Hoang Pham, 37, agreed to a plea deal early this year requiring he admit to a single felony count of wire fraud in relation to benefits connected to a federally declared emergency.

Pham admitted to gathering personal identifying information — including names, birth dates and social security numbers — from two dozen people whom he had never met, including residents of California, Texas and Michigan, according to his plea agreement.

Using that stolen personal information, Pham crafted fraudulent applications in their names that he submitted online to the California Employment Development Department, requesting benefits meant for those whose jobs had been impacted by the pandemic-related closures.

For the fake applications that were accepted, Pham had the benefits debit cards sent to an Anaheim mailing address he controlled, and withdrew the money from ATM’s throughout Orange County.

According to a sentencing brief filed by his attorney, Pham is an Afghanistan war veteran who suffers from PTSD from his time driving supply trucks between depots and forward operating bases in combat zones.

The defense attorney wrote that it was a particularly dangerous job due to the ubiquity of IED attacks along the routes and noted that Pham himself was in a vehicle that was hit by an explosion. Pham was saved by the “hulking engine of the five-ton truck” he was driving, as well as his fellow soldiers who pulled him from the burning rubble, the defense attorney wrote.

After his discharge from the Army, the defense attorney wrote, Pham began to self-medicate his PTSD symptoms by using crack cocaine and then methamphetamine and also began gambling heavily, which led to theft and fraud to feed his addictions.

The attorney wrote that Pham intends to participate in drug rehabilitation programs while in prison in order to “provide the structure and accountability that he has lacked, enabling him to once again become a productive U.S. citizen.”

Source: Orange County Register

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