Indictment: Man stole UCSD students’ identities, obtained $200K in COVID unemployment benefits
Nehemiah Weaver allegedly used identities stolen by his ex-girlfriend, a UCSD employee, to apply for and receive EDD benefits during height of COVID-19
A San Diego man has been charged with using the stolen identities of UC San Diego students to obtain more than $202,000 in fraudulent unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a 60-count indictment unsealed this week in San Diego federal court.
Authorities arrested 36-year-old Nehemiah Joel Weaver on Monday, just days after his co-defendant and ex-girlfriend, a former UC San Diego employee, pleaded guilty to one felony bank fraud count and admitted using her position in the university’s human resources department to steal the identities of at least eight students.
According to the indictment, Weaver used the fraudulently obtained payments from California’s Employment Development Department to pay $52,597 in cash for a BMW 740i. Around the same time, he deposited $6,650 into his personal checking account, then racked up thousands of dollars in charges at Nike, Gucci, Burberry and Louis Vuitton stores.
The indictment also alleges Weaver threatened and attempted to extort an acquaintance who he believed was cooperating with the grand jury investigation.
At his arraignment Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Barbara Major ordered Weaver to remain detained based in part on those alleged threats, as well as a prior criminal history and his failure to appear at a 2019 sentencing hearing in an identity theft case in another state.
An attorney for Weaver did not immediately respond to emails and a phone message seeking comment Thursday.
According to the indictment, the theft of the students’ personal information began in late 2019, before the COVID pandemic.
Mia Nikole Bell abused her access as a university employee to steal the names, dates of birth and social security numbers of several students and gave that information to Weaver, her then-boyfriend, according to Bell’s plea agreement. Bell, 31, now lives in Houston. She pleaded guilty last week to the bank fraud charge and is scheduled to be sentenced in August, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego.
Bell’s attorney was in a hearing Thursday afternoon and could not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Weaver initially used the identities provided by Bell, and ones he obtained from other sources, to open bank accounts and obtain loans totaling nearly $16,500, according to the indictment.
After the pandemic hit and Congress passed legislation boosting unemployment payments, Weaver used the stolen identities to submit at least 15 applications for such payments to the state’s Employment Development Department, the indictment says. State officials mailed debit cards for all 15 applications, disbursing payments that totaled at least $202,682.
Weaver pulled off a similar scheme to defraud the Arizona Department of Economic Security, obtaining $27,230 in fraudulent benefits from that state’s unemployment agency, according to the indictment.
Weaver took few steps to hide his actions, at one point using four of the cards from California in quick succession at the same ATM, according to the indictment. When he bought the luxury BMW sedan with cash, the address he listed on the contract was the same one where the Employment Development Department had mailed the 15 debit cards.
But the indictment alleges that once under investigation, Weaver did try hiding his conduct by threatening and extorting others who knew about his actions. According to the document, he left a stuffed animal rat on the car of someone who was cooperating with investigators, and threatened that person through text messages.
A few months later, Weaver sent several more threatening text messages to the same cooperating witness, telling the person he or she was “so dead you don’t even know it yet,” the indictment says. He also sent a photo of that person’s juvenile daughter along with the threatening messages.
The indictment charges Weaver with 28 counts of aggravated identity theft, 15 counts of mail fraud, nine counts of wire fraud, five counts of bank fraud, two counts of obstructing justice and one count of extortion. The bank fraud charges carry maximum prison sentences of 30 years, while the identity theft charges carry mandatory two-year prison minimums.
Weaver is due back in court next month.
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