Hillside woman admits to federal obstruction of justice charge

A Union County, New Jersey, woman admitted that she obstructed an investigation by destroying documents to cover up the theft of more than $400,000 in unemployment insurance benefits.

Latoyia McCollum, 46, of Hillside, New Jersey, pleaded guilty by videoconference before U.S. District Judge Brian Martinotti to an information charging her with obstruction of justice.

According to U.S. Attorney Rachael A. Honig, documents filed in the case and statements made in court, federal law enforcement officers executed a search on Oct. 6, 2020 at a location pursuant to a court-authorized search warrant.

Prior to the execution of the search, Maurice Mills had been charged by complaint with wire fraud for fraudulently obtaining more than approximately $400,000 in unemployment insurance benefits from the state of New York.

These fraudulently obtained benefits were often provided on a credit/debit card or by wire transfer into a bank account, where a debit card could then be used to withdraw the money.

Upon entering the location, law enforcement officers observed McCollum in the kitchen area next to a shredder that was on a counter.

She was placing what appeared to be a credit/debit card into the shredder while on a face-to-face communication on a handheld mobile device.

Law enforcement officers thereafter recovered from the shredder the shreds of what appeared to be a credit/debit card and approximately four credit/debit cards that had been placed into the shredder, but which had not been fully shredded.

Law enforcement officers also recovered four credit/debit cards that were on the counter next to the shredder.

After being read and waiving her Miranda rights, McCollum stated that when law enforcement officers entered the location she was on the phone with Mills, who had instructed her to shred the credit/debit cards.

Mills pleaded guilty on Sept. 20, 2021, to one count of wire fraud and is scheduled to be sentenced in February 2022.

The CARES Act also created new temporary federal program called the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program (FPUC) that provides an additional $600 weekly benefit to those eligible for PUA and regular unemployment insurance benefits.

A single IP address was used to submit unemployment insurance benefits claims on behalf of approximately 20 individuals to the State of New York.

Many of these claims were in the names of individuals located in Texas and directed the benefits to be sent to locations in New Jersey.

Mills was associated both with the IP address as well as a telephone number used to make some of the claims.

Mills also was observed using an unemployment insurance benefits debit card to make a withdrawal from an ATM. The claims made using the IP address have resulted in more than $400,000 in actual losses and more than $600,000 in potential losses.

The charge of wire fraud is punishable by a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of the greater of $250,000, twice the gross profits or loss, whichever is greater.

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