EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU) — A Wilkes-Barre man has been sentenced to two and half years in prison for pandemic fraud offenses.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Julio Pozo Gonzalez, 30, of Wilkes-Barre, was sentenced to two years and six months in prison for committing mail and wire fraud and identity theft related to pandemic unemployment fraud.

The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) Program was created by the March
2020 CARES Act and the PUA program was designed to provide unemployment benefits to individuals not eligible for regular unemployment compensation or extended unemployment benefits, U.S. officials say.

According to U.S. Attorney Gerard M. Karam, on July 29, 2021, Pozo Gonzalez pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit mail and wire fraud and committing aggravated identity theft.

Attorney Karam says from July 2020 through February 2021, Gonzalez and others used stolen identification information to apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for their own use and benefit.

On February 20, 2021, Pozo Gonzalez was stopped by PSP and gave consent to search his vehicle. Troopers recovered a black pouch under the driver seat containing 17 United States bank debit cards and more than $3,000, U.S Officials say.

Accoridng to Attorney Karam, Pozo Gonzalez spoke with investigators and consented to a search of his cell phone which determined that 17 debit cards in the names and identities stolen by Pozo Gonzalez, were used to apply for Pandemic Unemployment Benefits. Pozo Gonzalez was also identified on camera as the man who obtained cash at several automated teller machines or ATMs.

A total of $269,777 in fraudulent benefits were deposited into the 17 falsely obtained
accounts, officials say.

As part of the sentence, Pozo Gonzalez was also ordered to pay $267,777 in restitution.

Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can
report it by calling the Department of Justice`s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF)
Hotline at 866-720-5721 or by filling out the NCDF Web Complaint Form.