Monday, October 2, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

LA County man gets 10 years for $1 million Covid unemployment fraud

Robert Mateer admitted he had bought a Maserati SUV with money stolen from California's jobless benefits program.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — A Southern California man will spend 10 years in federal prison for claiming close to $1 million in Covid-19 unemployment benefits by using stolen identities.

Robert Mateer, 32, of Pasadena was also ordered to pay $937,000 in restitution at his sentencing hearing Thursday.

U.S. District Otis Wright II rejected the arguments by Mateer's attorney that he should have to pay back just $243,000, which was the amount he was seen withdrawing on ATM surveillance cameras using fraudulently obtained debit cards from the California Employment Development Department.

Although the judge said the question was mostly academic, because he didn't expect Mateer to be able to pay back that kind of money, he agreed with the prosecution that the fact that all the debit cards with the jobless benefits, including the ones found on Mateer when he was arrested, were sent to just three addresses showed that the entire $937,000 could be connected to his scheme.

"I found that dispositive," Wright said. "This is an important piece of information — lo and behold, there is connection."

Mateer was pulled over in the Maserati SUV he purchased with the stolen money during a traffic stop on October 1, 2020. Pasadena Police officers found 17 unemployment benefits debit cards, several other credit and debit cards, about $198,000 in cash, more than 85 grams of methamphetamine, and a loaded firearm with no serial number inside the vehicle.

After his arrest, Mateer admitted he got the unemployment benefits debit cards by using “thousands” of identity profiles in his possession, that each debit card was loaded with approximately $14,500, and that he used the fraudulently obtained unemployment benefits to purchase the Maserati automobile.

"At the time of my arrest, heroin was making my choices for me," Mateer told the judge Thursday.

He explained to the judge that he had been addicted to alcohol and drugs since an early age, in part because his father asked him to lie about being his son when he was very young and because his mother died when he was only 12 years old. Since his arrest in 2020, Mateer said, he had been sober and grateful to be alive.

He asked for forgiveness from his victims and his family.

Mateer had been using heroin on a daily basis since has was 18 or 19, according to the government's sentencing request, and continued to use heroin, methamphetamine, and Xanax as an adult. As a result of his addiction, he dropped out of college, tried to commit suicide, and has been homeless.

His lawyer argued that there was not sufficient evidence to connect him with all of the $937,000 in stolen jobless benefits because there was so much fraud occurring at the time with pandemic relief money and that it may have involved conspiracies unrelated to him. The judge, however, said the widespread theft from a program designed to help people in need only made Mateer's crime more egregious.

Follow @edpettersson
Categories / Criminal, Government, Regional

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.