Bryan Sparks, aged 42, and a former Seattle resident, illicitly obtained more than $1 million in jobless benefits and small business loans during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sparks has been sentenced to over eight years in prison, as announced by Seattle U.S. Attorney Nick Brown.
Sparks was indicted for his involvement in the fraudulent scheme in November 2021 and subsequently pleaded guilty to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in January.
In addition to his prison term, Sparks has been ordered to pay restitution exceeding $1 million.
U.S. District Judge James L. Robart, during the sentencing, described Sparks as a “serial thief and a fraudster” and expressed his shock at the extent of the damage caused by Sparks’ actions.
Identity Theft in Pandemic
According to court documents, between March 2020 and January 2021, Sparks and a co-conspirator utilized stolen personal information from more than 50 residents and businesses in Washington.
They used this information to apply for Economic Injury Disaster Loans from the Small Business Administration and unemployment benefits from the Washington State Employment Security Department.
The scheme resulted in the acquisition of approximately $522,000 from the Small Business Administration and $520,000 from the Employment Security Department.
Sparks established fraudulent bank accounts to receive the ill-gotten benefits and arranged for unemployment benefit debit cards to be sent to various addresses in and around Seattle for his retrieval.
Overall, Sparks attempted to secure a minimum of $1.98 million in federally funded payments.
Depleting Gov’t Funds
In the statement, Attorney Nick Brown stated that individuals like Sparks exploited the public and government during the pandemic. Brown emphasized that the harm extends beyond depleting government funds, as Sparks’ use of stolen identities has caused significant damage to the victims, with ongoing consequences in the future.
This case involving jobless benefits represents one of the largest instances of fraud in terms of dollar value related to Washington state’s disbursement of over $647 million in fraudulent claims linked to the pandemic. To date, the state has recovered approximately $370 million.
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