Feds charge 4 in $2.2 million unemployment fraud case

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — A crew of four people from Metro Detroit orchestrated a multi-state scheme that involved illegally obtaining unemployment benefits and spending the money on exotic cars, luxury jewelry, new furniture and a Saks Fifth Avenue shopping spree, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Federal agents Tuesday arrested three members of the alleged crew this week and a fourth member is a federal inmate in Pennsylvania.

The alleged fraud case involved filing more than 240 claims for allegedly fraudulent unemployment insurance benefits in at least 20 states, prosecutors said. The crew received more than $725,000 in Michigan and more than $1.5 million in California by filing claims in their names and by stealing the identities of other people, prosecutors said.

Those charged are:

• Daeshawn Tamar Posey, 25, of Detroit.

• Chaz Duane Shields, 33, of Detroit.

• Chaz's brother, Cortney Shaquan Shields, 30, who is in federal prison.

• Brittany Levett Witherspoon, 25, of Warren.

They are charged in the unsealed complaint with mail fraud, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. The complaint focuses on unemployment programs that provided an extra $600 per week in benefits and prolonged assistance during the pandemic.

The investigation started with a traffic stop Nov. 25 near Somerset Collection mall in Troy. That's when a Troy police officer stopped Posey, who was driving a black BMW 750i.

The officer was alerted because the license plate didn't belong to the BMW. It was registered to a Bentley. The officer searched the vehicle and found shopping bags bearing the names of high-end retailers.

Troy police contacted store employees and learned Posey purchased items with a state unemployment benefits debit card, according to the criminal complaint filed in federal court.

Troy police alerted Labor Department investigators who identified multiple unemployment claims by Posey in several states, the government alleged. Investigators later learned more than 230 claims were filed online from two Internet Protocol addresses, a distinct code unique to a specific computer. 

A federal agent analyzed email addresses involved in filing the unemployment claims and discovered the addresses used a variation of Posey's name and nickname "Glizz," according to the complaint. Plus, investigators were able to discover an address for Posey in the 15000 block of Dolphin Street in Detroit that was linked to his email addresses.

One claim filed in Posey's name used his Social Security number, birthdate, address and phone number. But others used different Social Security numbers, according to the government.

In May 2020, two claims totaling more than $9,600 were deposited into a JP Morgan Chase account opened by Posey one month earlier, a Labor Department agent wrote in an affidavit filed in court. In June 2020, a $6,684 benefit claim from Louisiana was deposited in the same account.

In all, that bank account received $42,466 in fraudulently obtained unemployment insurance money from four states — including Louisiana, Nevada and Michigan — plus a $10,000 Economic Injury Disaster Grant, according to the complaint.

Posey was recorded on ATM machine surveillance video withdrawing all of the grant money during a three-day period in July 2020, the agent wrote.

In May 2021, Posey is shown on surveillance video withdrawing money from a Bank of America ATM in El Segundo, Calif., using a California unemployment insurance debit card in a Florida resident's name, according to the complaint.

Investigators talked to the Florida man and he said he did not make an unemployment claim in Florida, Michigan or California.

Investigators traced more than 90 unemployment claims to another IP address that was assigned to Chaz Shields at a home in the 19000 block of Shiawassee Drive in Detroit, the complaint alleges. The phone number used to make the claims belonged to him, too, and is the same number Shields gave to a probation officer last year, according to the government.

The investigation showed that 10 email addresses used to file fraudulent claims were linked to Shields' phone number, the agent wrote.

Nearly two dozen of those claims filed in Shields' name used different Social Security numbers, according to the complaint. Six claims in Michigan last year totaled $29,280 and were deposited into an account created by Shields last year, the agent wrote.

He also is shown on ATM surveillance video withdrawing money using multiple California unemployment insurance debit cards, the government alleged. One debit card was in another man's name and that card was used to buy more than $5,700 worth of furniture at Gardner White last fall and shipped to a home in Farmington that is linked to Shields, the agent wrote.

His brother Cortney Shields, meanwhile, is serving a 60-month sentence for fraud and aggravated identity theft. Inmates are ineligible to receive unemployment benefits.

Despite his incarceration, four unemployment claims were filed in his name in Michigan last year, according to the government. Fraudulent unemployment claims totaling $34,716, were deposited last year into a Michigan First Credit Union account.

The investigation showed Cortney Shields had a hefty prison commissary account. His brother, Posey and Witherspoon sent him more than $26,000 from May-October 2020 at a time when multiple, fraudulent unemployment claims were being deposited into accounts belonging to the three men, the agent wrote.

Cortney Shields sent his brother an email from prison in June 2020 inquiring about money, according to the government.

"Let me know when you start sendin' that cheese...," Cortney Shields wrote.

"I got you bro," Chaz Shields wrote.

Investigators also traced five fraudulent claims last year to Witherspoon, according to the agent. The claims were sent from an IP address and some of the money was deposited in a Sutton Bank account that was opened in her name last year with her Social Security number and birthdate.

Cortney Shields exchanged emails with her while in prison, according to the agent. In one, they talked about Witherspoon using unemployment money to buy a new Rolex watch.

Witherspoon, however, complained everyone was buying Rolex watches.

"They out here literally acting like they never had money before EVERYBODY gotta Rolex now...," she wrote on June 15, 2020, according to the court filing.

Fraudulently obtained funds were used for big-ticket items, too, investigators allege.

State business records link Posey and Chaz Shields to a new luxury chauffeur service, Vainglorious Transports, that was used to acquire luxury vehicles during the pandemic, according to the complaint.

In a June 2020 email, Cortney Shields wrote that his brother had a pearl-colored Bentley. State records show Posey bought a 2014 Bentley last summer and paid $76,820 cash, according to the complaint. The vehicle's insurance is held in Chaz Shields' name.

Additional details are not included in the court filing but state records link Posey to 13 vehicles, including a 2014 Bentley Flying Spur and a 2010 Bentley Continental convertible. 

Vainglorious Transports and Posey paid $85,112 last fall for a 2016 Mercedes-Benz van. And Posey also paid $74,442 cash for another Mercedes-Benz in November, according to the complaint.

“Taxpayer money diverted into the pockets of criminals means less money going to Michiganders who need help getting through this difficult time,” Acting U.S. Attorney Saima Mohsin said in a statement Tuesday. “These arrests reflect our ongoing commitment to investigating these schemes and bringing the people who commit these crimes to justice."

Witherspoon was released on $10,000 unsecured bond after a brief appearance in federal court. Her lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday night.

Posey is being held temporarily without bond. His attorney, Paul Stablein, told The Detroit News that "Posey maintains his innocence of the charges, and we look forward to vigorously defending the allegations."

Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed.