By Nancy I. Maanao
Federal prosecutor Benjamin Petersburg wants Jerome Michael Cruz to spend at least 10 months in jail, be on probation for two years, and pay restitution of nearly $15,000.
Mr. Cruz earlier this year pled guilty to crimes involving the abuse of his position as a Guam Department of Labor employee who stole more than $13,000 in unemployment money from strangers, and tried to steal exponentially more before his scheme was discovered.
Mr. Petersburg, in the U.S. Government's sentencing memorandum to federal Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood, said "the facts of this case are egregious. Defendant was trained and entrusted to assist the public with PUA applications. As such, he was fully aware of the eligibility requirements and restrictions of the PUA program. Fully cognizant of the illegality of his actions, he used his privileged access and knowledge of the GDOL PUA system in order to obtain and attempt to obtain a significant amount of PUA benefits which were intended to assist individuals who were suffering from unemployment as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Under these circumstances, a sentence of imprisonment is appropriate. The Government recommends that the Court sentence the Defendant to a term of imprisonment of ten (10) months, supervised release for a period of two (2) years on conditions recommended by the U.S. Probation office, and restitution in the amount of $14,210.00."
Kandit published this original story on March 16, 2021, which provides greater detail of the crimes:
A fully-employed Guam Department of Labor employee, who worked for a time as a customer service representative assisting people with PUA and FPUC unemployment aid, stole money from the federal government and from the unemployed, and attempted to steal even more.
On September 26, 2020, he submitted an application for PUA and FPUC benefits, gifting himself $13,935 in federal funds fraudulently.
The employee - Jerome Michael Cruz - was transferred out of that program shortly afterward. On October 13, 2020, he accessed a protected computer without authorization, and was able to gift himself another $2,415 federal unemployment payments. He did this by modifying someone else's existing PUA claim by changing that claimant's payment type from paper check to banking direct deposit, and having the funds deposited into Mr. Cruz's bank account.
He attempted to divert several other people's claims into his bank account to the tune of an additional $79,650 worth of other people's money.
The U.S. Attorney's office, through prosecutor Benjamin Petersburg, brought charges of Federal Program Theft [violating 18 USC §§666(a)(1)(A) and (b)], and Accessing Protected Computer In Furtherance of Fraud [violating 18 USC §§1030(a)(4) and (c)(3)(A)]. They are Class C and Class D felonies, respectively, in the federal system.
If a jury had found him guilty of the crimes, he would have faced up to 15 years in prison and fines of up to $500,000.
Rather than fighting the charges at trial, Mr. Cruz agreed to forego a Grand Jury indictment and instead plea guilty to the charges against him through an Information filed with the U.S. District Court of Guam on by the U.S. Attorney on March 16, 2021. His plea agreement with the federal government followed on the same day.
The federal government is seeking leniency against Mr. Cruz because of his quick cooperation. According to his plea agreement, Mr. Petersburg will be seeking a jail sentence at the low end of the sentencing guidelines, and restitution of only $13,350, among other things.
Sources tell Kandit News Mr. Cruz admitted to federal investigators that he used the fraud proceeds to purchase a yellow Camaro. The U.S. Attorney and Mr. Cruz have agreed to asset forfeiture in the plea agreement.
The plea agreement states that the crimes described in it do not constitute the entirety of the crimes actually committed.