BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — In July, a claim for unemployment benefits filed on behalf of Richard Derderian identified him as a self-employed barber and custom painter who had been without work since March because of the coronavirus.
The state Employment Development Department quickly approved his claim, and Derderian eventually received a total of $21,710 before investigators discovered he wasn’t an unemployed barber. Or a painter. In fact, he wasn’t working at all when the pandemic hit.
Derderian was an inmate at Shafter’s Modified Community Correctional Facility, one of more than 20,000 inmates in 38 prison across the state who investigators say received payments in a massive fraud scheme to get illegal unemployment benefits. Authorities say the alleged fraud resulted in more than $140 million paid to inmates in the form of benefit cards issued by the state unemployment fund, the Associated Press reported.
Documents filed in Kern County Superior Court details how Derderian, 37, allegedly conspired with a friend on the outside to file the claim. The friend, Melissa Godshall, is accused of listing her La Mesa address as the location of Derderian’s fictitious business, and identifying herself in the application as a workplace supervisor.
The calls between Derderian and Godshall were recorded, as is the case with nearly all calls made to or from inmates held at correctional facilities statewide. Officials downloaded six phone calls and 29 EDD documents as they conducted an investigation.
The scheme began July 8, according to the documents, when Derderian called Godshall from the Shafter facility and asked her to file an unemployment claim for him. Derderian told her, “Everyone is getting it,” referring to inmates receiving benefits, the documents say.
“Their people do it for them,” Derderian told Godshall, according to the documents. “I would like the same. I would like to collect some of those dollars from unemployment while I am here and I want a stimulus check. Hopefully we can figure that out this week, right?”
Godshall agreed to file the claim, the documents say. Derderian told her it didn’t matter what she listed as his job. Other inmates claimed they were dog walkers who lost their job due to the pandemic, the filings say he told her.
They eventually agreed to put his profession down as a barber and painter who made $10,000 a month before COVID-19 closed his business, according to the documents.
During a phone call to his mother, Derderian told her about the scheme, and how he would be sending her money soon, the filings say. She told him the people in charge of the payments will eventually figure out what he did. But Derderian said he and other inmates already had an excuse prepared if caught.
“And we figure if it really comes down to it, and they do down the line, you know, try to get us to pay it back or it affects us, we’ll be like, ‘Man we were in prison, we didn’t know it was fraud. We didn’t have anything to do with it,'” Derderdian said then started to laugh, according to the documents.
“But there’s probably like 60 other, 60 million other people doing the same thing out there,” he told his mother.
On July 20, Godshall called Derderian and said she received an EDD debit card for $14,880. She paid herself $2,000, and Derderian asked her to put the rest into a Cash App account she created for him, the filings say.
The two received thousands more before the alleged fraud was discovered, the filings say.
Derderian and Godshall were each arraigned on six felonies last week, including conspiracy and obtaining aid by fraud. They are next due in court Jan. 8.