Former Va. state employee sentenced for stealing $1.8 million in COVID relief

A former Virginia state employee has been sentenced to nearly six years in prison in connection with a scam that involved ripping off financial programs that were created to help people during the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Sadie Mitchell, 30, of Midlothian, was given the sentence last week after accepting a plea deal, agreeing to plead guilty to charges of mail and wire fraud.

In all, federal prosecutors said that Mitchell stole $1.8 million in COVID relief money in 2020 and 2021.

“This exploitation of government programs meant to assist our most vulnerable community members is appalling and inexcusable,” said Jessica Aber, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

According to federal prosecutors, Mitchell submitted dozens of fraudulent unemployment claims in an effort to steal from the pandemic unemployment assistance program, which was meant to help those not covered by traditional unemployment benefits, including self-employed people.

Mitchell used her job at the Virginia Motor Vehicle Dealer Board to access a government database with personal information, including dates of birth and Social Security numbers.

She took the information, filed 30 fraudulent applications and collected benefits that were sent to her on a debit card by the Virginia Employment Commission.

The victims “had no knowledge that their personal identifying information had been compromised and used,” according to court documents.

Prosecutors said that Mitchell filed another 20 fraudulent unemployment claims using the personal information of inmates who had been serving sentences at state prisons.

The applications included fake addresses and fake “previous employers,” as the inmates had been locked up at the time.

Mitchell continuously made money through the scam by submitting “recertifications of unemployment status” on a weekly basis.

“Unemployment insurance benefits were intended for people suffering the worst effects of the global pandemic,” Aber said. “Our office along with our state and federal partners are aggressively pursuing fraudsters who abuse pandemic relief resources.”

According to prosecutors, Mitchell was able to steal more money by submitting fraudulent applications through the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program.

Both were federal programs that extended loans to small businesses in an effort to prop them up during the pandemic.

Mitchell “submitted false and misleading loan applications to financial institutions,” according to court documents.

As part of her plea deal, Mitchell was ordered to pay restitution, including nearly $1.2 million to the Virginia Employment Commission.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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