EYEWITNESS NEWS(WBRE/WYOU)— A former Luzerne County woman has pleaded guilty to fraudulently obtaining unemployment benefits from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced on Thursday, Takiyah Austin, 47, formerly of Wilkes-Barre pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.

According to U.S. Attorney Gerard M. Karam, Austin was a social security claims specialist who from May 2020 to about May 2021, filed claims for ineligible participants in exchange for compensation for them.

“Takiyah Gordon Austin engaged in a scheme to abuse her position as a claims specialist
for the Social Security Administration in order to obtain the personally identifiable information
of unsuspecting individuals,” said Syreeta Scott, Special Agent-in-Charge, Mid-Atlantic Region, U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General.

Attorney Karam says, she accessed the information needed for the scheme through the Social Security Administration databases from unaware individuals, then later sent the unemployment funds to different addresses that she controlled. This allowed her to use the funds for personal use, Karam added.

Throughout the entirety of the scheme, she gathered over $288,000, mentioned Karam.

“Former Social Security Administration (SSA) employee Gordon Austin abused her
position by accessing Agency records for unofficial and illegal purposes. In her scheme, she used
the stolen PII of innocent and unsuspecting persons to defraud federal benefits programs of over $288,000,” said Michael McGill, Special Agent in Charge, Social Security Administration,
Office of the Inspector General, Philadelphia Field Division.

The DOJ says the maximum sentence for wire fraud is 20 years in prison and two years for aggravated identity theft.