Seattle – A couple from the Seattle area have been charged today in the western district of Washington with more than $1 million in COVID-19 aid fraud, US attorney Nick Brown announced. Bryan Alan Sparks, 40, and Autumn Gail Luna, 22, are facing charges in a 16-point charge for defrauding the Washington State Employment Security Division (ESD) of more than $500,000 in benefits and defrauding the Small Business Administration for about $520,000. The two are currently in federal custody in Washington, DC after being arrested at Union Station with cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.
According to the indictment, the two used stolen personal information from more than 50 Washington residents from March 2020 to at least January 2021 to claim unemployment benefits. The pair had loaded benefits onto debit cards and sent them to several addresses in the Seattle area where they or their co-conspirators could pick them up. They also opened fraudulent bank accounts and got benefits paid directly into those accounts. They also used many of those same stolen identities to apply for loans under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The Small Business Administration paid approximately $520,000 in proceeds from the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) to the couple. The total unemployment benefits that the two fraudulently obtained are more than $500,000.
In furtherance of their plan, Sparks and Luna used the stolen personal information to create fake driver’s licenses and obtain fraudulent driver’s licenses from the Washington State Department of Licensing. They kept more than a dozen phone numbers on as many cell phones, each of which was labeled with the phone number and names of stolen identities. The defendants also kept detailed ledgers and electronic files of stolen personal information, credit card numbers and financial transactions associated with each stolen identity.
The couple is charged with conspiracy, 5 counts of mail fraud, 6 counts of wire transfer fraud and 4 counts of aggravated identity theft.
Conspiracy is punishable by 5 years in prison. Cheating and mail fraud related to a major disaster or emergency declared by the President is punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Aggravated identity theft is punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of two years which may be followed by another sentence imposed in the case.
The allegations in the indictment are just allegations. A person is presumed innocent unless and until his guilt is proved beyond a reasonable doubt by a court.
The investigation of this case is being led by the Social Security Administration, Office of the Inspector General and US Postal Inspection Service, with partners: Colusa County Sheriff’s Office (CA); Washington State Department of Employment Security; Small Business Administration, Office of the Inspector General; Amtrak Police Department (DC); FBI (Sacramento, CA office); FBI Cyber Task Force (DC); Washington State Department of Licensing, Driver and Vehicle Investigations; and the Department of Labor, Office of the Inspector General.
The case is being pursued by United States Assistant Attorneys Cindy Chang and Seth Wilkinson.
On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to pool the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with government agencies to strengthen efforts to fight and prevent pandemic fraud. The Task Force is strengthening efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assist agencies charged with managing emergency programs to prevent fraud, including by expanding and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, resources and identifying techniques to detect fraudulent actors and their schemes, and sharing and leveraging information and insights gained from past enforcement efforts. For more information on the Department’s response to the pandemic, visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus.
Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or using the NCDF web complaint form at: https://www. .justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.