Ex-Seattle man gets 8 years for stealing $1M in pandemic benefits

Updated

SEATTLE (AP) — A former Seattle man who stole over $1 million in jobless benefits and small business loans during the COVID-19 pandemic was sentenced on Tuesday to more than eight years in prison, Seattle U.S. Attorney Nick Brown said in a statement.

Bryan Sparks, 42, was indicted for the fraud scheme in November 2021 and pleaded guilty to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in January. He was also ordered on Tuesday to pay more than $1 million in restitution.

U.S. District Judge James L. Robart called Sparks at the sentencing “a serial thief and a fraudster — one of the more successful ones," and said he was appalled by the damage Sparks had done.

From March 2020 until at least January 2021, Sparks and a co-conspirator used stolen personal information of more than 50 Washington residents and businesses to apply for Economic Injury Disaster Loans from the Small Business Administration and unemployment benefits from the Washington State Employment Security Department, court documents said.

Sparks and his co-conspirator obtained nearly $522,000 from the Small Business Administration and $520,000 from the Employment Security Department, the documents said.

Sparks opened fraudulent bank accounts to receive the benefits and had unemployment benefit debit cards mailed to addresses in and around Seattle where he could retrieve them. In all, Sparks tried to obtain at least $1.98 million in federally funded payments.

“People such as Mr. Sparks took advantage of the public and our government at the height of a crisis, and I’m glad to see him held accountable,” Brown said in the statement. “The harm goes beyond depleting government funds — his use of other people’s identities has damaged the victims and will continue to cause problems for them into the future.”

The jobless benefits case is one of the largest in dollar terms stemming from Washington state paying out over $647 million in pandemic-related fraudulent claims. The state has recovered about $370 million.

Fraud was rampant in pandemic relief programs, the U.S. Labor Department’s inspector general said last year. President Joe Biden's administration asked Congress in March to approve more than $1.6 billion to continue prosecuting those who committed fraud, to put into place new ways to prevent identity theft and to help people whose identities were stolen.

Originally published