Hyattsville man pleads guilty in unemployment fraud scheme

A Hyattsville, Maryland man pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges related to a fraud scheme involving CARES Act unemployment insurance money.

Sylvester Atekwane, 32, faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison for conspiracy to commit wire fraud in relation to his role in a scheme in which he and others collected the sensitive personal information of more than 600 people in order to fraudulently submit unemployment claims in their names.

The office of Maryland U.S. Attorney Erek L. Barron said in a statement that Atekwane and others between Feb. 2020 and Feb. 2021 routed at least $150,000 in fraudulent unemployment benefits from 61 people directly to his own address or to accessible nearby apartments.

They then collected and activated the unemployment insurance prepaid debit cards, to later withdraw the fraudulently-obtained money from ATMs.

Atekwane personally kept at least $6,000. Barron’s office said the entire scheme took in about $2.7 million.

In at least one instance, Atekwane used his position as a caregiver for the elderly to access personal information.

“Some of the most vulnerable in our community trusted and relied on [him] and he abused them as they suffered through the pandemic,” Barron said in the statement. “He will now be held accountable.”

As part of his guilty plea, Atekwane will be required to pay at least $250,000 in restitution. His sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 6, 2023.

Dana Sukontarak

Dana Sukontarak is a Digital Writer/Editor for She loves haiku poetry, short sci-fi stories and word games. She grew up in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and currently lives in Silver Spring.

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