Fredericksburg man pleads guilty to pandemic unemployment fraud scheme | USAO-EDVA

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A Fredericksburg man pleaded guilty yesterday to conspiring to obtain pandemic unemployment benefits. His family members have also been charged for their role in the scheme, as well as a separate mail theft and bank fraud scheme.

According to court documents, from May 2020 or around January 2022 or around January, Eric Wilhoit, II, 28, conspired with his siblings, Odyssey Wilhoit, 23, and Jeremiah Wilhoit, 26, and his cousin, Dejhaun Wilhoit, 26, to get pandemic unemployment benefits. Yesterday Eric Wilhoit pleaded guilty and admitted to applying for pandemic unemployment benefits on his own behalf and on behalf of others, many of whom were victims of identity theft. He also admitted to misrepresenting, among other things, the plaintiffs’ employment history and that they lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of yesterday’s plea, Eric Wilhoit admitted that he instructed his accomplices on how to make the claims and that he used VPNs and fake or anonymized email addresses in an attempt to cover up the fraud. Moreover, he admitted to having recruited other people in order to use their physical addresses to receive the prepaid debit cards containing the unemployment benefits. Eric Wilhoit admitted that he and his accomplices made large cash withdrawals and bought luxury goods with the profits. More specifically, Eric Wilhoit notably bought a diamond ring. Eric Wilhoit admitted the associated loss was between $550,000 and $3,500,000.

As he attempted to flee his arrest, Eric Wilhoit led law enforcement on a high-speed chase, which resulted in him crashing his car with his underage children in the backseat.

In addition to alleging that Odyssey Wilhoit, Jeremiah Wilhoit and Dejhaun Wilhoitm engaged in this pandemic unemployment benefit scheme, the indictment also alleges that Odyssey Wilhoit conspired with 23-year-old Jaleai Morrison of Temple, Georgia, in a separate mail theft and bank fraud scheme. Morrison pleaded guilty Nov. 7 to participating in the scheme. According to court documents, Morrison would steal checks from a US post office box and provide the checks or personal information from the checks to Odyssey Wilhoit. Odyssey Wilhoit then allegedly used this information to create fake checks, which she would then deposit into bank accounts. After his conspiracy with Morrison ended, it is alleged that Odyssey Wilhoit continued his bank fraud scheme until at least July 2022.

Eric Wilhoit and Morrison are due to be sentenced on January 25, 2023. Eric Wilhoit faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Morrison faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. If convicted, Odyssey Wilhoit, Jeremiah Wilhoit and Dejhaun Wilhoit face a mandatory minimum sentence of 2 years and a maximum sentence of 30 years. Actual sentences for federal crimes are generally lower than the maximum sentences. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering US sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.

Jessica D. Aber, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Wayne A. Jacobs, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Washington field office criminal division; Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis; Damon E. Wood, Inspector in Charge of the Washington Division of the United States Postal Inspection Service; and Troy Springer, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Washington, DC Regional Office, U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, made the announcement after U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Trenga accepted the plea.

The Charles County Sheriff’s Office and the Virginia State Police provided assistance in this case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kimberly Shartar and Christopher Hood are prosecuting the case.

A copy of this press release can be found on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Court documents and related information can be found on the website of the district court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER looking for case #1:22-cr-191.

An indictment is just an accusation. Odyssey Wilhoit, Jeremiah Wilhoit and Dejhaun Wilhoit are presumed innocent until proven guilty.