DETROIT (CBS Detroit/AP) — A former contractor for the state of Michigan has been sentenced to nearly five years in prison for helping orchestrate a $3.8 million fraud scheme involving money intended to help unemployed people during the coronavirus pandemic.
On Thursday, a U.S. District Court judge in Detroit sentenced 40-year-old Brandi Hawkins to 58 months in federal prison and ordered her to pay $3,793,186 restitution to the state.
The Detroit woman, who was a former contract employee with the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency, pleaded guilty to wire fraud charges in June. Hawkins was charged last year and admitted receiving bribes from people to file fraudulent unemployment insurance claims from April to June 2020, often using stolen identities.
The scheme netted $3.8 million in state and federal aid intended for unemployment assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities said.
Prosecutors said Hawkins spent bribe money on high-end handbags and other luxury goods and that investigators recovered more than $200,000 from her home during a federal raid.
“Hawkins exploited the pandemic to defraud the State of Michigan and United States for her own personal gain,” Acting U.S. Attorney Saima Mohsin said in a statement. “This sentence should send a message to those who seek to divert funds intended for those in need during what has been a very difficult period of unemployment — you will be prosecuted.”
Court records show Hawkins was terminated from her state contracting job in June 2020 but continued to remotely access state systems.
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