LOUISIANA (KLFY) – A Louisiana man has pled guilty after using the names of prisoners and others in a scheme to obtain pandemic unemployment benefits.

Chaz Ryan Watkins, 35, of Springfield, faces up to 20 years imprisonment after he pled guilty to wire fraud in connection with a fraudulent scheme to obtain pandemic unemployment benefits, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office Middle District of Louisiana.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said that between December 2019 and September 2021, Watkins obtained the personal identifying information of inmates incarcerated in Louisiana prisons and other individuals, including names, birth dates, and social security numbers. Watkins then submitted claims for pandemic unemployment assistance benefits to the Louisiana Workforce Commission in the names of the inmates and others, often without the individual’s knowledge or consent.

In the applications, Watkins requested benefits be transmitted via direct deposit to his accounts or via pre-paid debit cards. Once the funds were received, Watkins withdrew the funds as cash.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said that Watkins received over $95,000 in fraudulent unemployment benefits.

“Once again we see that whenever there is a public emergency, fraudsters will be there to pounce. Chaz Watkins used the names and personal identifying information of incarcerated prisoners and deceased individuals to fraudulently enrich himself and deprive others who had a legitimate need for these emergency benefits. Now Mr. Watkins must bear the criminal consequences for his actions. The Louisiana Inspector General will continue to relentlessly pursue fraudsters who take advantage of an emergency to steal from the taxpayers,” said Louisiana Inspector General Stephen Street.

This matter is being investigated by the Louisiana Office of State Inspector General, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Office of Inspector General, and the U.S. Department of Labor. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Kristen Lundin Craig.