Moses Lake ESD hire charged with federal employment fraud counts

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TACOMA — A Moses Lake man is charged with federal crimes for allegedly filing false unemployment claims and demanding kickbacks while working for the state Employment Security Department.

Reyes De La Cruz III, 47, was charged in a 20-count indictment. It alleges that after he was hired at ESD in April 2020, he filed unemployment claims using other people’s personal information, and then had the benefits paid to debit cards that were mailed to addresses in Moses Lake where De La Cruz could retrieve them.

He allegedly paid himself $130,000 through the scheme, and took money from friends and relatives for setting up benefit payments on their behalf.

De La Cruz, who previously worked for ESD from 1996 to 2003, was one of many people hired in spring 2020 to deal with the surge in pandemic-related unemployment claims across Washington as the COVID-19 pandemic froze commerce. The indictment claims he used that official access to illegally enrich himself through the debit card scheme, through bribes solicited from others to set up benefit payments for them, and by threatening to cut off those claims when the beneficiaries refused to pay him.

He gained an estimated $110,00 in fraudulent ESD payments for himself, and another $21,000 in kickback payments, federal prosecutors say. In all, he’s accused of defrauding ESD of at least $360,000 in fraudulent claims.

Police arrested De La Cruz in Moses Lake on Friday morning. The charges include six counts of wire fraud, nine counts of bribery of an agent of an organization receiving federal funds, one count of extortion under color of official right, and four counts of aggravated identity theft. He faces trial in federal court in Tacoma.