A 31-year-old woman from Virginia told investigators she wanted to run a “legitimate” business that charged people a fee to file fraudulent unemployment claims on their behalf, according to documents filed by a federal court.
She was jailed instead.
Leelynn Danielle Chytka was sentenced to nine years in prison on Friday after prosecutors said she defrauded the government on nearly half a million dollars in pandemic unemployment benefits by filing bogus claims for prisoners, friends and family members.
Chytka lives in Lebanon, Virginia, about 20 miles from the North Carolina border.
Although the money is sometimes deposited into the accounts of the Commissioner of Inmates, the government said Chytka often keeps it to herself. She is also accused of having kept part of the benefits in payment for her friends and family.
“In the midst of a global pandemic, this defendant conspired with others to defraud the Virginia Employment Commission of nearly $ 500,000 earmarked for Virginians in need,” Acting US Attorney Daniel P. Bubar said. “This was money set aside by the federal government to help those struggling during the COVID-19 crisis – not to line the pockets of fraudsters. “
Unemployment insurance is designed to provide financial assistance to people who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. During the pandemic, the federal government expanded eligibility for these benefits to offset job losses following nationwide closures.
Chytka pleaded guilty in March to conspiracy to defraud the government, conspiracy to commit mail fraud in connection with a major disaster, identity theft and the distribution of suboxone, the Minister said. West Virginia District Attorney’s Office in a press release.
A public defender appointed to represent Chytka did not immediately respond to McClatchy News’ request for comment on Friday.
In federal court documents filed with his plea agreement, prosecutors said Chytka orchestrated the scheme along with two other people – brothers Greg and Jeff Tackett, one of whom was in prison at the time of the alleged fraud.
Jeff Tackett was incarcerated at the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority in Duffield. Greg Tackett later told investigators he was not in jail when he applied for unemployment benefits, but was out on bail for drug possession and “on the run,” according to the documents. court.
Chytka filed the first UI claim using the Lebanon, Virginia address, which she shared with Greg Tackett in May 2020, prosecutors said. At the time, she was employed and was not eligible for benefits.
Chytka then filed claims on behalf of Greg and Jeff Tackett using the same address, prosecutors said.
In the months that followed, Chytka was accused of having filed 36 other complaints at the same address. At least 15 of them involved people incarcerated with Jeff Tackett, according to court documents. These people gave Jeff Tackett their Social Security numbers and dates of birth, which he then shared with Chytka and Greg Tackett.
Prosecutors said many requests had the same answers to security questions or listed the same phone number belonging to Chytka.
Investigators ultimately questioned Chytka at a North Carolina prison, court documents show. She reportedly told them that she received inmate unemployment benefits on prepaid debit cards and deposited them “occasionally” into their commissioner accounts at Jeff Tackett’s request.
If they didn’t ask, prosecutors said, Chykta and Greg Tackett would use the cards “for their own benefit.”
Chykta also received the prepaid debit cards on behalf of friends and family who asked for help filing fraudulent unemployment claims, the government said.
“Chytka and (Greg Tackett) typically kept these cards and paid these people with cash, illicit drugs or other valuables (including providing vehicles for certain people),” prosecutors said.
On at least two occasions, prosecutors said Chykta stole personal information from an inmate as well as the Tackett brothers’ grandfather to complete requests without their knowledge.
The government said investigators were able to trace the scheme through emails and phone calls recorded in prison.
Chytka reportedly told investigators that she was planning to start a business called “D&R Accounting” with Greg Tackett.
“Chytka explained to investigators that she wanted to make her business ‘legitimate’ – that instead of stealing other people’s unemployment money, she eventually wanted to charge people a fee for her fraudulent claims filing service.” the government said in court documents.
In total, prosecutors said Chytka received $ 499,000 in fraudulent unemployment claims on behalf of at least 37 people over nine months.