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Saturday, January 22, 2022

Former USC football player from OC accused of COVID-19 unemployment benefit scheme

A former USC football player from Orange County was arrested Monday, December 20 after being accused of running a scheme in which he and other football players filed for hundreds of thousands of dollars in unemployment benefits related to COVID-19 .

Abdul-Malik McClain, 22, who now moves to Jackson State in Jackson, Mississippi, pleaded not guilty in US District Court in Los Angeles to 10 counts of mail fraud and two counts of serious identity theft. He was released after posting a $20,000 bond. He is due back in court on February 15.

“We intend to vigorously defend Mr. McClain,” his lawyer, Alex Kessel, said in a phone interview on Monday afternoon.

No other arrests were announced on Monday. US Justice Department spokesman Thom Morozek said the investigation was ongoing.

It was not immediately disclosed by officials how many other players were involved in the plan.

McClain, a linebacker, was the Trinity League Defensive Player of the Year in 2017 while playing for Saint Junipero Serra Catholic School in Rancho Santa Margarita.

A federal grand jury indicted McClain on 16 December. At least three dozen fraudulent applications seeking more than $900,000 were filed by McClain or his associates, the DOJ news release said. About $227,000 was paid out.

The release said McClain was living in Los Angeles while the crimes were being committed during the summer of 2020. McClain announced in November 2020 that he was relocating to Jackson State.

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While a member of his university’s football team, McClain joined a group of other football players in filing fraudulent claims for unemployment benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program established by Congress in response to the economic fallout of the pandemic. organized and aided,” the indictment says. “The indictment … contained false information about football players’ prior employment, job losses related to the pandemic, and efforts to find jobs in California.”

The indictment says Bank of America mailed debit cards filled with hundreds or thousands of dollars in unemployment benefits to football players who used the cards to withdraw cash from ATMs.

“In some cases, McClain sought and received deductions to help others,” the indictment says.

The indictment says McClain and others filed applications in their names, the names of friends, and victims of identity theft.

The indictment identified the university whose players had attended only as “University 1”.

A USC spokesperson did not respond to questions about whether any current players are under investigation and whether their stand with the team or the university has been affected.

“When the university came to know about the matter in September 2020, we notified law enforcement and are cooperating fully with the authorities. “We are unable to provide additional information because this is a pending criminal case,” USC spokeswoman Laura Bartlett said in a written statement.

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