Stay up to date with information about COVID-19. Click here
Press Release

AG Shapiro: 20 More Inmates, Accomplices Charged with Illegally Obtaining $300k Unemployment Benefits

September 23, 2020 | Topic: Criminal

HARRISBURG― Attorney General Josh Shapiro today announced state charges against 20 inmates and accomplices in three state prisons in central and eastern Pennsylvania. These arrests are linked to at least two existing rings, or organized groups of inmates and outside accomplices who conspired to provide false information on COVID-19 unemployment benefit applications.

“After announcing our first round of arrests in these COVID unemployment scams, I promised that there were more to come,” said Attorney General Shapiro. “Today, 20 more individuals have been charged with illegally taking benefits away from hard-working Pennsylvanians who are struggling during this crisis. These arrests are not the end of our investigation, and I’ll continue working with my colleagues at the federal level to track down those heading these schemes, along with those who are willfully participating and breaking the law.”

The first and larger ring was operated in Centre County, out of State Correctional Institution (SCI) Benner. The second ring was operated in Schuylkill County, out of SCI Mahanoy.

The Benner ring included two ringleaders and eight additional co-conspirator inmates. Adele Moore, of State College, and James G. Neff Zonge, an inmate at SCI Benner, began operating the fraud ring out of SCI Benner after Moore successfully applied for COVID-19 unemployment benefits on behalf of Neff Zonge. Moore and Neff Zonge established a system in which Moore would use an inmate’s personal identifying information, apply for COVID-19 benefits from her address, and then give the inmate a portion of the collected benefits. Moore would often keep the majority of the money for her own personal use. In total, the SCI Benner ring obtained $153,470 in fraudulent COVID-19 unemployment benefits.

The Mahanoy ring included two ringleaders, Wendy Danfora and Markal Munford, as well as two additional inmates. Danfora, of York, also took the personal identifying information of her inmate co-conspirators to apply for COVID-19 unemployment benefits. As part of the scheme, Danfora gave a portion of the benefits to the inmates, but kept the majority for her personal use. In total, the SCI Mahanoy ring obtained $109,900 in fraudulent COVID-19 unemployment benefits.

There were also six individual inmates arrested without any known links to a ring. These arrests are part of an ongoing investigation by the Office of Attorney General in partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the eastern district of Pennsylvania.

Individuals are only eligible for PUA benefits if they are both unemployed for reasons related to the COVID-19 pandemic and available to work. In order to receive benefits, an individual must access the PUA website and file a PUA claim. The applicant is required to enter personal identifying information and answer eligibility questions. Individuals who are serving a sentence of incarceration, or who are detained pending a criminal trial, are neither available for work nor unemployed for reasons related to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, they are not eligible to receive PUA benefits for the period of their incarceration.

Individuals who apply for emergency unemployment benefits when they are employed or incarcerated are breaking federal and state law. Individuals found to be involved with organized efforts to obtain emergency unemployment benefits illegally can face significant prison time and financial penalties. In some instances, like the arrests today, ringleaders of these schemes can face over 60 years, and their co-conspirators can face well over 40 years.

Members of the Benner ring include:

Adele B. Moore: Not incarcerated and resides in State College, Centre County. Moore first filed for PUA for herself and for inmate Jacob Snook. Moore then conspired with Neff Zonge to file PUA for inmates Butler, Lyter, Baker, Young, Sullivan, Leidig, and Klecha. Moore received a total of approximately $7000.00 from the inmates for filing the applications and from two of the inmate debit cards that she received for the inmates at her residence.

James G. Neff Zonge: Inmate at SCI Benner from State College, Centre County. Neff Zonge first had Adele Moore attempt to file PUA for him. His PUA was filed but not approved. Neff Zonge then provided the names of his inmate associates from inside SCI Benner. Neff Zonge provided Moore with the name, DOB, SSN, and mailing address for inmates Butler, Lyter, Baker, Young, Sullivan, Leidig, and Klecha. Neff Zonge received approximately $3000.00 from the inmates for help filing PUA.

Todd A. Butler: Inmate at SCI Benner from Columbiana, Ohio. Todd Butler provided his name, DOB, and SSN to Neff Zonge to have Adele Moore file for PUA for him. Butler received $9930.00 in UC payments.

Michael C. Lyter: Inmate at SCI Benner from Harrisburg, Dauphin County. Wife now lives in Perry County. Lyter provided his name, DOB, mailing address, and SSN to Neff Zonge to have Adele Moore file for PUA for him. Lyter received $12,315.00 in UC payments.

Ronald E. Baker: Inmate at SCI Benner from Glen Rock, PA, York County. Baker provided his name, DOB, mailing address, and SSN to Neff Zonge to have Adele Moore file for PUA for him. Baker received $13,110.00 in UC payments.

Derek L. Young: Inmate at SCI Benner from Watsontown, PA, Northumberland County. Young provided his name, DOB, mailing address, and SSN to Neff Zonge to have Adele Moore file for PUA for him. Young received $9930.00 in UC payments.

James E. Sullivan: Inmate at SCI Benner from Hawley, PA, Wayne County. Sullivan provided his name, DOB, mailing address, and SSN to Neff Zonge to have Adele Moore file for PUA for him. Sullivan received $9930.00 in UC payments.

James M. Leidig: Inmate at SCI Benner from Chambersburg, PA, Franklin County. Leidig provided his name, DOB, mailing address, and SSN to Neff Zonge to have Adele Moore file for PUA for him. Leidig received $22,245.00 in UC payments.

Joseph E. Klecha: Inmate at SCI Benner from Montrose, PA, Susquehanna County. Klecha provided his name, DOB, mailing address, and SSN to Neff Zonge to have Adele Moore file for PUA for him. Klecha received $12,315.00 in UC payments.

Jacob P. Snook: Inmate at SCI Benner, From Bellefonte, Centre County. Snook was the first of the SCI Benner inmates to successfully commit PUA fraud. Snook received $10,125.00 in UC payments.

Total Theft: $109,900

Members of the Mahanoy ring include:

Wendy Danfora: Co-Conspirator from York, PA, York County. Danfora is the girlfriend of inmate Markal Munford, who is incarcerated at SCI Mahanoy. Danfora conspired with Munford to file for PUA benefits for themselves, family members and other inmates at SCI Mahanoy.

Markal Munford: Inmate at SCI Mahanoy, Frackville, PA, Schuylkill County. Munford provided the names, dates of birth, and social security numbers for other inmates through prison communications to his girlfriend, Danfora, starting at the end of May 2020.  They frequently discussed the scheme during their telephone calls. Danfora kept the funds to spend on herself and three children.  Between Danfora and Munford, they are responsible for at least 13 fraudulent filings, which total $78,994.

Inmates at SCI Phoenix who applied for fraudulent COVID-19 unemployment benefits include:

Jermaine Plumer: Received $18,264.00 worth of PUA paid out after he provided personal identifying information to non-incarcerated individuals.

Rafael Rodriguez: Received $22,109.00 worth of PUA paid out after he provided personal identifying information to non-incarcerated individuals.

Dwayne Washington: Received $3,510.00 worth of PUA paid out after he provided personal identifying information to a non-incarcerated individual.

Leroy Barnes: Was never paid, but did provide his personal identifying information to a non-incarcerated individual to have them complete a PUA application on his behalf.

Andrew Simms: Was never paid, but did provide his personal identifying information to a non-incarcerated individual to have them complete a PUA application on his behalf.

Dexter Pitts a/k/a Kevin Perry: Received $3,150.00 worth of PUA paid out after he provided his personal identifying information to a non-incarcerated individual.

The case will be prosecuted by Senior Deputy Attorney General Heather Castellino.

If you believe you have been a target or victim of coronavirus-related fraud, please report it to the Attorney General’s tip line at pricegouging@attorneygeneral.gov.

A criminal complaint is only a formal charging document and is not evidence of guilt. All defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

# # #