North Carolina man committed COVID fraud in 10 states, feds say
Joseph Ransome is sorry.
This time last year, Ransome – a 51-year-old former retail executive from North Carolina – was accused of lying about losing jobs at big-box stores to qualify for $163,000 in COVID-19 unemployment benefits from 10 states.
Ransome apologized for his “selfish and greedy” actions in letters to the court. Now he’s heading to jail.
U.S. District Judge Robert J. Conrad in Charlotte sentenced Ransome to two and a half years in federal prison on Thursday, Jan. 27, after pleading guilty to wire fraud charges. Ransome was also ordered to pay $44,172 in restitution — most of which, according to his defense attorney, remains tied up in a Federal Credit Union account.
“I learned from this experience that there are no shortcuts, no get-rich-quick schemes and no easy solutions,” Ransome wrote in a letter to the judge before his sentencing. “Only hard work, discipline and respect for the fundamental values taught by my parents lead to a successful life. I have tried to demonstrate my sincere remorse, to make amends to society and to remedy my own shortcomings which have contributed to my actions so that they never happen again.
Ransome wasn’t the only person this week to appear before a Charlotte judge on fraud charges related to the coronavirus pandemic.
In a separate case, Bryon Jones, 66, had his supervised release revoked after prosecutors said he lied to obtain $142,900 in COVID-19 relief funds while under the supervision of a court for a previous drug conviction.
Neither Ransome’s defense attorney nor public defenders representing Jones immediately responded to McClatchy News‘ request for comment on Friday, January 28.
“Motivated by self-interest and greed”
Ransome, who lives just outside Charlotte in Indian Trail, North Carolina, waived his right to an indictment last year and pleaded guilty to attempting to defraud the federal government in January 2021 .
According to information filed with his plea agreement, Ransome’s alleged scheme lasted five months at the start of the pandemic, from March to July 2020.
Meanwhile, the federal government had expanded access to unemployment benefits to help millions out of work amid widespread shutdowns and stay-at-home orders. They briefly offered some eligible workers an extra $600 a week.
Ransome is accused of taking advantage of this pandemic aid by filing fraudulent claims for unemployment benefits in North Carolina, New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida, Minnesota, New York, Massachusetts, Maine , in Washington and Illinois. Prosecutors said he claimed to have worked at stores including Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Lowe’s, Hobby Lobby and Costco, but was fired due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In reality, the only store Ransome had worked for was Walmart. But he did not lose his job because of the pandemic, the government said. Instead, Ransome was reportedly fired from the hypermarket for misconduct.
After his guilty plea, prosecutors asked the judge to sentence Ransome to two years in prison. They said he also tried — and failed — to get four separate economic disaster loans for a fake business and used someone else’s social security number to take out a car loan. .
“The defendant’s actions can only have been motivated by self-interest and greed at a time when millions of Americans were suffering the economic impact of a global pandemic,” prosecutors said in the papers. of condemnation. “As the pandemic spread, fraud related to the unemployment benefit program and other programs designed to provide essential economic relief also increased.”
Ransome’s defense attorney asked for leniency, saying his client came from a large family in rural eastern North Carolina, enlisted in the Navy after graduating from high school and had worked for 20 years in the management of several large retailers, including Linens ‘N Things, Kmart and Walmart.
In his letter to the court, Ransome told the judge that he was in therapy to “address my kleptomania (and) integrity issues” and that he was volunteering in the community to “come to terms with society.”
“It’s been humbling to admit that I need help and more importantly to ask for help,” he said. “Equally humble has been to keep a paid job no longer as a manager but as an employee.”
The polygraph does not spare prison
Jones was convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to 10 years of probation in 2019, according to court documents.
Then, in December 2020, a probation officer accused him of violating the conditions of his release by filing a false application for an economic disaster loan through the Small Business Administration. The EIDL program has been expanded during the pandemic to allow more companies to qualify.
Prosecutors said Jones received an EIDL for $142,900 on behalf of his company, Ramses Air Freight & Transport Inc.
Public defenders submitted the results of a polygraph test during a hearing on whether Jones’ supervised release should be revoked. They said Jones had not completed the loan application and was unaware that it contained false statements.
Jones took the polygraph in April, telling the interviewer that an acquaintance had told him about a woman who could help him apply for COVID-19 relief funds through the government.
“He said (the woman) filled out the loan application and signed her name on the application and he never saw the completed application,” the interviewer said in his notes. “Jones said he didn’t know she lied on the application form.”
Polygraph results showed Jones was telling the truth.
His public defenders were allowed to submit the results as an expert opinion, but he still lost his bid not to go to jail. The judge sentenced him to two years with an additional five years of probation, prosecutors said.
This story was originally published January 28, 2022 6:32 p.m.