Alleged ‘Mastermind’ Sentenced for $5M Unemployment Fraud Scheme

EDD offices.
Photo courtesy of the EDD

A man who had a leading role in a scheme to take more than $5 million in state unemployment funds intended to help people during the COVID-19 pandemic was sentenced in San Diego federal court Monday to 40 months in prison.

Constantin Sandu, 34, pleaded guilty to conspiring with over 200 people in California and Romania to file fraudulent applications to California’s Employment Development Department, resulting in a loss of over $5.2 million, according to Sandu’s plea agreement.

By assisting others in filling out the applications, Sandu also received fees from the applicants after they received the ill-gotten EDD funds. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Sandu and co-conspirators would offer their services to others via public posts and advertisements on Facebook.

Sandu personally received nearly $215,000 through the scheme, according to prosecutors, who said he wired thousands back to his home country of Romania in order to renovate his house there.

Last week, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced indictments against 14 other people for various roles in the scheme.

While the U.S. Attorney’s Office alleged in a news release that Sandu “masterminded” the scheme, defense attorney Joseph Hitrec said in court that his client was a “low level player” who took part in the fraud in order to help his family. Hitrec said the offenses were in part committed due to limited employment opportunities amid the pandemic.