Detroit-area pair charged with taking $4M in jobless aid, trying to take $13M

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

An unemployment scheme involving about 470 false jobless aid claims resulted in about $4 million in losses across five states, a little less than one-third of the total a pair of suspects attempted to take, federal officials said Tuesday.

In all, Tauheed Salik Wilder, 39, of Detroit and Shuqueni Renee Franklin, 30, of Shelby Township are alleged to have attempted to illegally obtain benefits in the range of $13 million in five different states, including Michigan, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Michigan.

Wilder and Franklin used their own names, stolen identities and false social security numbers in an effort to obtain the aid and were identified on ATM surveillance cameras using cards under the names of other individuals. 

"Those who steal unemployment benefits steal from all taxpayers and jeopardize the safety net Congress enacted to protect employees who lost jobs during the pandemic," Acting U.S. Attorney Saima Mohsin said in a statement. "These arrests reflect our ongoing commitment to investigating these schemes and bringing the people who commit these crimes to justice."

Wilder and Franklin face charges of mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering and aggravated identity theft. They were arrested Tuesday.

Federal officials have charged dozens in Michigan with million of dollars in unemployment fraud since the pandemic began, cracking down on escalated attempts to defraud the system during an unprecedented demand for pandemic aid. The state's Unemployment Insurance Agency has taken part in the investigations through the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Fraud Task Force.

Auditors have estimated the state lost "hundreds of millions" in unemployment aid due to fraud, but there has been no final tally as to the losses. 

“When someone loses their job, they trust that help will be there to get them through rough times," said Julia Dale, director of the state's Unemployment Insurance Agency. "Thieves jeopardize that trust and threaten the safety net for those truly in need. We won’t let that happen."