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3 Men Accused of Fraud in Disability Claims Scam


RIVERSIDE — Three Inland Empire men defrauded the state's Disability Insurance Fund of more than $500,000 by submitting more than 350 false benefit claims over a five-year period, federal prosecutors alleged Monday.

The suspects used employment information of wage earners without their knowledge--gleaned from an immigration services business--to file false claims that those people had suffered temporary disabilities and were entitled to state insurance benefits, according to a 30-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles.

The claims were submitted to the state's Employment Development Department and were supported by bogus medical certifications of the alleged disabilities, said Assistant U.S. Atty. Nathan J. Hochman.

The claims included false mailing addresses to which the wage earners' benefit checks were mailed, and the checks were then deposited by the suspects or their accomplices, he said.

Two of the suspects--Jorge Villafuerte, 35, and Felipe Rios, 24, both of Ontario--were arraigned Monday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Virginia Phillips in Los Angeles and pleaded not guilty.

A third suspect, Juan Carlos Cardoso, 31, of Fontana remains at large.

Hochman said the fraud began to unravel two years ago when Employment Development Department investigators discovered that the same mailing addresses were receiving multiple disability checks. The indictments followed an investigation by Postal Service officials, computer analysis, interviews with the unwitting wage earners whose names were used and an examination of bank records.

Each count carries a maximum five-year prison sentence and $250,000 fine.

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