New York woman sentenced to probation and fines in COVID aid fraud schemes


NEW YORK (AP) — A Brooklyn woman who pleaded guilty to fraud in connection with various pandemic-era relief schemes was sentenced Thursday to three years of probation and $650,000 in penalties.

Prosecutors said Chanette Lewis, 32, carried out some of the schemes by leveraging her job at a call center, part of a New York program meant to provide health care workers with isolation rooms in hotels. They said she provided free hotel rooms to people she knew weren’t eligible health care workers or COVID-19 patients, including herself.

“During the pandemic, this defendant exploited a COVID-19 safe-lodging program for her personal profit; today she faces the consequences of her criminal conduct. I thank New York City Emergency Management for reporting this matter,” New York Department of Investigation Commissioner Jocelyn Strauber said in a statement.

It’s the latest example of how people are believed to have stolen an estimated $280 billion in government aid during the pandemic across the U.S., including New York. The sentencing Thursday was part of a larger case involving $400,000 of fraud in the hotel program.

Lewis admitted to defrauding the emergency programs, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York said in a statement, and she separately forged legal documents purporting to come from judges, prosecutors and doctors to get 30 people into public housing or into larger public housing apartments.

Using stolen personal information from real health care workers, she and three co-defendants were accused of securing the hotel rooms and then advertising them on Facebook to rent out, according to the Department of Investigation Statement. Co-defendants in the case have admitted to getting unemployment benefits in multiple states, along with fraudulent small business loans.

The Associated Press left phone and email messages with a lawyer involved in a plea deal in the case. It wasn’t immediately clear if that was Lewis’ current attorney; requests to prosecutors and investigators for updated contact info were not immediately answered.

Lewis was sentenced to three years of probation and ordered to forfeit $290,000 and pay another $360,000 in penalties. Her co-defendants received lesser sentences, or have yet to be sentenced.

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