Woman arrested in million-dollar unemployment fraud scheme based out of capital area
BATON ROUGE - State investigators say a woman tied to a network targeting pandemic-boosted unemployment benefits defrauded multiple states out of hundreds of thousands of dollars from her Baton Rouge apartment.
Darrolyn Bell, 29, was arrested Thursday and accused of illegitimately claiming unemployment benefits during the early days of the pandemic. Bell was among at least 86 people tied to the scheme, which persisted from May 2020 to June 2021 and took advantage of blind spots in fraud detection as states saw a massive influx of new claims last year.
According to the Louisiana Bureau of Investigation, the network consisted of at least four groups across Ascension, East Baton Rouge and Iberville parishes that defrauded California's unemployment insurance system out of about $1,186,107 through more than 100 fraudulent claims.
Arrest records say investigators linked the groups together using online activity and through a post office box associated with about 90 percent of the claims.
Investigators found that some of the culprits submitted duplicate claims in Louisiana as well. Documents say at least six of the individuals filed illegitimate claims in Louisiana totaling more than $61,000.
Bell in particular was tied to at least 33 separate claims totaling more than $250,000, all filed from her apartment on Old Hammond Highway. Investigators confirmed her involvement through purchase receipts and ATM footage showing her using a California Employment Development Department debit card. Records show Bell also received dozens of illegitimate payments from the Louisiana Workforce Commission around that same time.
The Louisiana Bureau of Investigation added that it first began looking into the fraud allegations after getting a tip from the Iberville Parish Sheriff's Office related to potential criminal activity there and in surrounding parishes.
Bell, who's now listed as living in Iberville Parish, was booked overnight on charges of conspiracy to commit illegal transmission of monetary funds, illegal transmission of monetary funds and government benefits fraud.
Officials did not immediately provide details about any other individuals who may face charges.