CHARLESTON, WV (LOOTPRESS) – A St. Charles, Missouri husband and wife were each sentenced to five years of federal probation today after unlawfully obtaining $26,917 in unemployment benefits provided for by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.
The CARES Act provided for a temporary emergency increase in unemployment compensation benefits, referred to as the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Program (FPUC). The CARES Act also created the PUA program, which provided unemployment benefits to individuals not eligible for regular unemployment compensation or extended unemployment benefits. The FPUC and PUA programs are collectively referred to as pandemic unemployment benefits and even though these benefits are administered by the states, they are funded in part by the federal government.
According to court documents and statements made in court, Robert Notgrass, 51, and Rhonda Notgrass, 46, lived in Washington, West Virginia, when Robert Notgrass was employed as a pastor of a local church from before January 1, 2018, until he was released from that position on June 1, 2020.
On August 15, 2020, Rhonda Notgrass applied for pandemic unemployment benefits with WorkForce West Virginia, the agency that administers the pandemic unemployment benefits for West Virginians. Rhonda Notgrass falsely claimed that she was unemployed as a direct result of a pandemic or major disaster. Robert Notgrass helped his wife complete the application and submitted a letter on her behalf in furtherance of the false claim.
On September 16, 2020, Rhonda Notgrass received approximately $14,150 in pandemic unemployment benefits payment from WorkForce West Virginia. The payment included federal monies from the CARES Act. Rhonda Notgrass admitted that she knew she was not entitled to receive the pandemic unemployment benefits. Rhonda Notgrass pleaded guilty to theft of government property.
Robert Notgrass admitted to wrongly receiving $12,767 in pandemic unemployment benefits. Robert Notgrass pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the theft of government property.
The couple has fully paid the $26,917 in court-ordered restitution.
United States Attorney Will Thompson made the announcement and commended the investigative work of the U.S. Department of Labor – Office of Inspector General (OIG) and WorkForce West Virginia.
United States District Judge Irene C. Berger imposed the sentence. Assistant United States Attorneys Erik S. Goes and Kathleen Robeson prosecuted the case.