Arrests made as part of $ 400,000 COVID-19 fraud program targeting New York City’s hotel room isolation program – NBC New York

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What there is to know

  • Four people face charges for allegedly participating in a scheme that defrauded New York City’s COVID-19 hotel room isolation program by more than $ 400,000, prosecutors said Tuesday.
  • Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, New York City created the COVID-19 Hotel Room Isolation Program which has provided free hotel rooms throughout New York City for up to 14 days for qualified persons.
  • The federal government and New York City paid more than $ 400,000 for hotel rooms that were fraudulently hijacked as a result of the scheme, prosecutors said.

Four people face charges for allegedly participating in a scheme that defrauded New York City’s COVID-19 hotel room isolation program by more than $ 400,000, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Chanette Lewis, 30, from Brooklyn, Tatiana Banjamin, 26, and Queens, Tatiana Daniel, 27, from Brooklyn, and Heaven West, 21, from Brooklyn, are all accused of participating in the fraud , Audrey Strauss, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Margaret Garnett, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Investigation (DOI), and Jonathan Mellone, Special Agent in charge of the New York Regional Office of the United States Department of Labor – Office of the Inspector General (DOL-OIG) jointly announced. Prosecutors say Lewis has also been charged with a second COVID-19 program involving unemployment benefit fraud.

Lewis and Daniel were arrested in New York on Tuesday, while West was arrested in Atlanta. Benjamin is still at large, according to prosecutors.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, New York City created the COVID-19 Hotel Room Isolation Program which has provided free hotel rooms throughout New York City for up to 14 days for qualified persons. The program was open to: healthcare workers who needed to self-isolate due to exposure to COVID-19; patients who test positive for COVID-19; people who believed, based on symptoms, that they were infected with COVID-19 and needed to self-quarantine; and those who lived with someone who had COVID-19. Those who wanted to book a hotel room through this program could either call a phone number or use an online hotel reservation platform.

According to court documents, the four accused people defrauded the program by allegedly procuring free hotel rooms for the program by falsely claiming to be healthcare workers and then selling those fraudulently obtained hotel rooms – y including rooms in Manhattan and the Bronx – to people who were not eligible for the program.

In total, the group has collectively diverted more than 2,700 nights of hotel rooms through the program charging different amounts depending on the length of hotel stay of customers, according to prosecutors, citing the complaint.

According to court documents, Lewis worked at a call center that handled phone calls and some reservations for the program for several months in 2020 – allowing him access to legitimate credentials of healthcare workers.

Prosecutors say Lewis abused his position, including misusing healthcare worker credentials, exposing the inner workings of the program to co-conspirators, and making unauthorized sales of chambers. hotel intended for the program to non-eligible people.

Apparently, Lewis sold Benjamin the personal identifying information of at least five medical professionals, as well as some “codes” to use when booking hotels through the program for $ 800. She admitted on Facebook that she stole doctors’ credentials as part of the scheme, prosecutors said. She also apparently announced to potential customers that when hotels requested the identification of a healthcare worker, she would provide an alleged pay stub and a letter claiming the individual was (allegedly) a healthcare worker.

The Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday that it has approved a third dose of the coronavirus vaccine for people who are immunocompromised.

Apart from Lewis, the rest of the defendants also used Facebook to advertise the sale of illegally obtained hotel rooms in the program; communicate with the co-conspirators; and communicate directly with customers and have made various incriminating statements via Facebook related to the alleged scheme they were carrying out.

According to prosecutors, Lewis worked directly with Benjamin and Daniel, while West worked with, among others, Daniel.

The federal government and New York City paid more than $ 400,000 for hotel rooms that were fraudulently hijacked as a result of the scheme, prosecutors said.

Lewis is also charged with a second COVID-19 scheme involving unemployment benefit fraud in which she is accused of fraudulently obtaining more than $ 45,000 in unemployment benefits by claiming she had not been employed since February 2020 due to a lack of work due to the COVID -19 pandemic. In fact, however, she was employed for at least part of that time at the call center and her job ceased not because of the pandemic but because she allegedly stopped reporting for work, according to the reports. prosecutors.

In this case, Lewis is charged with: wire fraud, punishable by up to 20 years if convicted; wire fraud conspiracy, which is also punishable by imprisonment for up to 20 years; honest service fraud, which also carries a potential maximum sentence of 20 years if convicted; aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 2 years, consecutive to any other prison sentence; and theft of public funds, punishable by up to 10 years.

Benjamin faces a charge of wire fraud, carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years if convicted; a wire fraud conspiracy charge, which also carries a jail term of up to 20 years; and aggravated identity theft, punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of 2 years, following any other prison sentence.

Daniel and West each face a wire fraud charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years if convicted, and a wire fraud conspiracy charge, which also carries a sentence of up to 20 years. ‘imprisonment of up to 20 years.

Information on the lawyer for the four was not immediately known.


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