May 8, 2021 - FRESNO, Calif. — Garrett Scott Wheelen, 30, of Fresno, pleaded guilty on Thursday to mail fraud and possession of stolen mail, Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.
According to court documents, between August and November 2020, Wheelen perpetrated a mail fraud scheme to defraud the State of California by submitting fraudulent Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claims to California’s Employment Development Department (EDD). PUA is a federal unemployment insurance program, established by the federal CARES Act and administered by EDD, that provides unemployment benefits to people impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wheelen used personally identifiable information (PII) and other information associated with real people to submit fraudulent unemployment insurance and PUA claims to EDD. The claims were submitted for his own benefit and included information relating to employment and mailing addresses that were not associated with the claimants. EDD approved at least some of the claims and caused Bank of America to mail debit cards containing unemployment benefits to an address under Wheelen’s control.
Additionally, Wheelen engaged in a scheme that involved stealing U.S. mail and harvesting bankcards, financial information, checks, and PII for use in fraudulent activity. For example, on Sept. 4, 2020, he was in possession of California State driver’s licenses, credit cards, and checks that he had stolen from U.S. mail. At least some of this mail came into his possession when he broke into a mail truck in Fresno on Aug. 11, 2020.
This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the California EDD’s Investigation Division, and the Reedley Police Department. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert J. Artuz is prosecuting the case.
Wheelen is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Dale A. Drozd on July 30. Wheelen faces a maximum statutory penalty of 25 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.