Detroit man accused of stealing $1.6M in unemployment insurance benefits sentenced

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

A Detroit man has been sentenced to 39 months in federal prison in connection with the theft of more than $1.6 million in unemployment insurance benefits from nine states, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

Jordan Armstrong, 29, was sentenced Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts on charges of wire fraud and identity theft.

A criminal complaint was first filed in 2021. Between May and October 2020, Armstrong "without various individuals’ knowledge or approval, submitted fraudulent applications for unemployment insurance benefits in the names of individuals in Michigan, California, Texas, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Massachusetts, New York, and Louisiana," federal officials said in a statement.

Armstrong was accused of attempting the same scheme in eight other states, filing more than 300 claims across 17 states and territories, according to the release.

He allegedly submitted the claims using residents' Social Security numbers and other personal information, directing the benefits to be paid through debit cards repeatedly withdrawn at ATMs across Metro Detroit, officials said.

The scheme "exploited programs designed to support small businesses and unemployed Americans and diverted money away from those who were in need during the pandemic," said Josh Hauxhurst, acting special agent in charge of the FBI’s Detroit Division. “Thanks to the hard work of all the agencies involved in this investigation, Mr. Armstrong has been held to account for his criminal actions.”

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Armstrong was also ordered to pay restitution to the victim-states of $1,611,202.

“Today’s sentence is another example of our ongoing efforts to investigate and prosecute the unprecedented theft of unemployment insurance benefits that occurred during the pandemic," U.S. Attorney Dawn Ison said. "These expanded unemployment insurance benefits were intended as a lifeline for those needing help during a time of great stress and uncertainty. We will continue to hold the individuals who stole those monies accountable."

In a sentencing memorandum filed this month, Armstrong's attorney, Sanford Schulman, noted his client had no other criminal history, previously pleaded guilty to wire fraud and "fully accepted responsibility."

Schulman sought a shorter sentence, saying Armstrong's case "involved poor judgment during a time when he was experiencing tremendous financial pressure" and the money went to paying bills. 

He added that Armstrong "has gone through a considerable change since he was charged with this offense. He has focused on his family, his job and his future family. He and his fiancé are expecting their first child and Jordan has grown up considerably as a result."

His case follows other charges involving state residents accused of schemes to seize COVID-19 relief or defrauding related programs.

Last month, a Southfield woman was charged in connection with allegedly using the identities of other people to file more than 35 false unemployment insurance claims.

More: Why Michigan's pandemic unemployment aid problems seem like déjà vu

A state audit found Michigan's unemployment agency lost more than $8.5 billion to suspected fraudulent payments amid record claims and persistent attempts at fraud during the pandemic.

In December, the U.S. Secret Service reported at a minimum, nearly $100 billion has been stolen from COVID-19 relief programs launched to help businesses and people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic.