5 arrested in $1M California EDD fraud affecting at least 100 victims

Five people were arrested by the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety after officers identified 100 potential victims who fell prey to an EDD fraud at a loss of about $1 million through burglars that pilfered people's identities from their stolen mail. 

Evidence seized during the investigation reveals potentially thousands of more victims, Capt. Dan Pistor said in a news release. 

Public safety officers were conducting a follow-up investigation on Nov. 16 for a residential burglary case, where the suspected burglar -- George Ramirez, 35, of San Jose -- stole several items of personal identification, social security cards, credit cards, utility bills, and personal checks, Pistor said.

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Officers ended up finding Ramirez at a hotel in Sunnyvale and arresting him. In the room, they found a bunch of stolen mail from residents throughout Santa Clara County. 

That led them to uncover what the department is calling an "EDD benefits fraud ring" involving Ramirez and four others.

The other four were identified as: Christopher Ellingsen, a parolee at Large from Oregon for weapon-related crimes; Arpresha Dunn, who is on active parole for fraud-related crimes; Samuel Ellingsen, who is on active parole for burglary; and Robert Briston, who is on active Post Release Community Supervision for weapon-related crimes and narcotics. 

The five were allegedly stealing mail and personal identification from victims throughout Santa Clara County, Pistor said.

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Officers aid the suspects used the stolen personal identification to create fake profiles in the real victims’ names, which were then used to apply for EDD unemployment benefits.

During the investigation, officers also recovered a stolen motorcycle, two handguns -- one of which was stolen in residential burglary -- a shotgun, AR-15 assault rifle parts, ammunition, illegal narcotics and stolen computers. Officers also found a device used to create fictitious credit cards.  

The California EDD has recently been under fire by the state auditor, who found the department's system lax in exposing Social Security numbers. 

In addition, prosecutors in nine counties last week announced a "massive fraud" investigation involving inmates at California prisons and jails who have successfully filed tens of thousands of jobless claims including high-profile names such as Scott Peterson, Cary Stayner and others on Death Row. 

The Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety is investigating this case in collaboration with the State of California EDD Taskforce and the US Postal Service Inspection Service.