14 Michigan residents indicted on unemployment fraud charges

Beth LeBlanc Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Federal prosecutors have charged 14 southeast Michigan residents believed to be part of a scheme to defraud the unemployment systems in several states, one of the largest arrests in the crackdown on pandemic unemployment fraud.

Nine were named in an initial indictment, and charges against five others believed to be involved in the plot were unsealed shortly afterward.

The plan, allegedly developed by Sharodney Harrison, included fake email accounts, stolen personal information under which claims were filed and a California Airbnb rental from which fraudsters could collect California claims, the indictment said.

The scheme continued from Feb. 1, 2020, through Jan. 26, 2021, and included claims filed in Michigan, California, Montana, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Texas and Washington state, according to court filings.

Federal prosecutors have charged a total of 37 individuals in relation to pandemic unemployment fraud in Michigan in recent months. Those 37 are believed to have submitted about $20 million in fraudulent claims in Michigan and elsewhere.

The $20 million makes up a small fraction of the "hundreds of millions" of dollars in fraudulent claims that are believed to have been submitted during a crush of claims early in the pandemic.

Still, Wednesday's announcement of charges marks one of the largest schemes prosecutors have cracked so far in a wide-ranging investigation into fraudulent attacks on Michigan's unemployment system.

According to Wednesday's filings, Sharodney Harrison, 36, of Detroit is alleged to have conspired with Seandrea Crawford, 27, of Detroit, Sharrell Harrison, 33, of Eastpointe, Sha-ron Harrison, 31, of Harper Woods, Sharease Harrison, 35, of Detroit, Edward Taylor, 36, of Detroit, James Mayfield, 36, of Detroit, Frank Jennings, 43, of Dearborn Heights, Sharonda Griffin, 31, of Center Line, Tyshia Ree Coleman, 37, of Detroit, Lenora Dashawn Calliway, 35, of Highland Park, Brandi Renee Randall, 35, of Detroit, Eric Dejon Matthews, 27, of Detroit and Steven Johnson, 32, of Detroit. 

Sharodney Harrison, Griffin and Sherrell Harrison all made initial appearances Wednesday in federal court and were released on $10,000 unsecured bond.

"Unfortunately, the conduct alleged in these indictments is not unique and resulted in the loss of millions of dollars meant for Americans throughout the country," said Timothy Waters, special agent in charge of the FBI's Detroit Field Office. 

The individuals charged in the scheme attempted to exploit the pandemic "for their own personal gain," said Acting United States Attorney Saima Mohsin. 

"These allegations are serious, and my office is committed to prosecuting any person who attempts to use the COVID-19 crisis to defraud the people of Michigan or the United States," Mohsin said.

Individuals named in the indictment utilized several addresses in Michigan for claims while also traveling to California between Aug. 25, 2020, to Sept. 4, 2020, to gather claims more quickly. 

"Believing that they could have California UI claims paid more quickly if California mailing addresses were used for the UI claims, these members of the conspiracy rented an Airbnb located in Los Angeles, California, and used the address of that Airbnb and other California addresses to file fraudulent California UI claims in the days leading up to the trip, and while they were in California," the indictment said.

Authorities filed charges against Coleman, Calliway, Randall and Matthews in separate filings that provided more details on the scheme. 

Coleman is alleged to have communicated over text with Sharodney Harrison, who provided him information on a Green Dot account and received prepaid unemployment benefit cards at her home for Sharodney Harrison, according to the complaint.

At one point, Coleman reminded Sharodney Harrison via text, according to the complaint: "Don't forget i want u to order them yeezys for me size 6."

A total of 42 unemployment claims included Coleman's address between April 13, 2020, and Aug. 6, 2020, including claims filed in Michigan, California, Montana and Pennsylvania, according to the complaint.

Calliway is alleged to have received about $70,000 in Michigan unemployment payments at two adjacent Highland Park addresses as part of the scheme with Sharodney Harrison. 

Randall is alleged to have received fraudulent unemployment mailings at her house from Sharodney Harrison. 

A total of 44 unemployment claims filed between March 14, 2020, and Aug. 7, 2020, listed Randall's address. Those claims included ones filed in Michigan, Arizona, Texas, Washington state and California.

Matthews also corresponded with Sharodney Harrison over text regarding fraudulent claims. At one point, Sharodney Harrison sent Matthews a photo of a notebook page "containing the names, dates of birth, social security numbers and address for a number of people with the message 'Go ahead an (sic) eat big fellow.'"

Matthews responded with a message that said, "My n---- for life we gone eat forever and together," according to the complaint.

Michigan and other states experienced persistent claims for fraudulent jobless benefits during the pandemic, as the state attempted to balance a wave of new claims with new federal benefits and difficulties in paying timely benefits. 

Prior to Wednesday's charges, the U.S. Attorney has charged at least 13 people with scheming Michigan's unemployment system during the pandemic, and Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office is investigating another dozen cases associated with unemployment fraud. 

Six defendants have entered guilty pleas.

The Unemployment Insurance Agency has fired 10 employees for suspected fraudulent behavior — five full-time workers and five contract workers. 

An independent audit released in November identified failings in the state of Michigan's technology and policies that made it easier for people to submit fraudulent claims, estimating the total paid in fraudulent claims to be in the "hundreds of millions."

eleblanc@detroitnews.com