Thursday, March 4, 2021
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Rockview Inmate Charged in Scheme to Illegally Obtain Pandemic Unemployment Benefits

An inmate at Rockview state prison was one of three people charged on Tuesday for allegedly conspiring to apply for COVID-19 unemployment benefits using false information, according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

John R. Jones, 31, is accused of illegally applying for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for himself and nine other state prison inmates with the assistance of an outside accomplice, 33-year-old Elise Ballard, of Johnstown.

According to the criminal complaint, Jones provided the names and information to Ballard, who then filed the applications, received the money and sent payments to the prison’s inmate money accounts.

The PUA funds associated with the 10 names Jones provided totaled $88,545.

Jones allegedly used a Johnstown address and listed his last date of employment as Dec. 29, 2019. He has been incarcerated at Rockview in Benner Township since Feb. 7, 2017.

Ballard is accused of running a similar scheme with her boyfriend, Robert Palmer, an inmate at Huntingdon state prison. Palmer allegedly provided 20 names that received a total of $163,907 in PUA payments.

According to the complaint, Ballard admitted to her role in the scheme and said she did not take any of the money herself.

“These three individuals have been charged for conspiring to illegally take benefits from hard-working Pennsylvanians who continue to struggle through this immensely difficult time,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a statement. “As I’ve said previously, these arrests are not the end of our investigation, and my office will continue to track down those heading these schemes and bring them to justice.”

Jones and Pamer were each charged with eight felony counts, including corrupt organizations, theft, receiving stolen property, conspiracy and criminal use of a communication facility. Ballard faces 224 felony and misdemeanor charges, while Palmer

The charges are the result of an ongoing investigation into schemes involving inmates and accomplices allegedly filing for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program that provided additional funds to unemployed individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To date, Shapiro’s office has charged 24 inmates and five outside accomplices for allegedly submitting fraudulent PUA applications that illegally obtained more than $2.3 million.

In September, a State College woman and nine Benner state prison inmates were charged for allegedly participating in such a scheme.

Individuals are eligible for PUA benefits if they were unemployed for reasons related to the COVID-19 pandemic and available to work. To receive the benefits, they had to file a claim through the PUA website, providing personal identifying information and answers to eligibility questions.

Shapiro said applying for the COVID-19 unemployment benefits while either incarcerated or employed violates state and federal laws and those found guilty face prison time and financial penalties.