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‘Withdrawing 14K a day off unemployment.’ Ex-Homewood man accused of filing fraudulent COVID-19 claims, boasting in Instagram messages

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 5/12/2021 Madeline Buckley, Chicago Tribune

A Georgia man was accused Tuesday in a federal indictment of filing fraudulent coronavirus-related unemployment claims from his former home in south suburban Homewood.

Robert Carter, 27, is charged with multiple counts of wire fraud, according to a criminal complaint that says he filed for unemployment benefits in Maryland, despite having no connection to the state. The complaint alleges he received debit cards in the mail, and withdrew thousands of dollars from ATMs in Chicago and surrounding suburbs.

Carter is also accused of filing for CARES Act unemployment benefits in Illinois, Virginia, Ohio, California and Arizona.

The CARES Act, signed into law last March, expanded unemployment benefits due to income loss related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Among other things, the law added $600 to regular unemployment checks, and expanded unemployment funds to workers, such as independent contractors, who aren’t usually eligible for the benefits.

Between June and August of last year, Carter electronically submitted claims in Maryland for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which allowed benefits for contractors and self-employed workers under the CARES Act, the complaint alleges. In one filed under his name, Carter said he owned a landscaping business and listed a Baltimore residential address, but the mailing address for the debit cards was the Homewood address, the complaint said.

The allegedly fraudulent claims resulted in more than $506,000 in benefits being sent to claimants, such as Carter, “who were not entitled to unemployment benefits,” according to the complaint against Carter, which does not name other claimants.

Federal investigators identified 28 claims in Maryland that traced back to the address for Carter’s Homewood residence, the criminal complaint alleges. They also obtained a warrant for his Instagram page and found messages about the unemployment fraud, the complaint says.

One Instagram message read: “Withdrawing 14K a day off unemployment,” the complaint alleges. He also messaged someone: “Let’s do some fraud I’ll help you.”

Carter is scheduled for an initial appearance in federal court on Friday. His attorney, Gal Pissetzky, said he is looking forward to receiving discovery in the case, but declined to comment further.

mabuckley@chicagotribune.com

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