Hawaii woman accused of pandemic unemployment fraud

A Hawaii woman is facing fraud charges, having been accused of misleading the government about her employment status during the pandemic and filing false tax returns for several years.

Heidi Cafirma of Waipahu said she she was not working or making income and collected more than $70,000 in pandemic unemployment benefits from June 2020 to September 2021, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. She is also accused of laundering money on three separate occasions to avoid reporting it, prosecutors say.

Cafirma is charged with filing false tax returns, wire fraud, money laundering and illegal structuring.

If convicted, Cafirma faces a maximum sentence of three years in prison for filing false tax returns, 20 years on each wire fraud count, 10 years for money laundering, and five years for illegal structuring.

Pandemic unemployment fraud cost taxpayers up to $135 billion, according to a report released last month by the Government Accountability Office. The reported estimates that between 11% and 15% of cases were fraudulent.

More than $3.8 million in Hawaii pandemic unemployment claims were fraudulent between March 2020 and March 2023, according to the GAO report. A little over $700,000 of the fraudulent claims were recovered, and $1,200 was written off.

The report said $4.78 million in regular unemployment fraudulent claims were filed in Hawaii during the same time period. Just over $1.4 million of that was recovered.

In addition to the fraudulent claims, an estimated $17.7 million in nonfraudulent overpayments were made. The state recovered $12.9 million and waived $492,500, the report said.

The U.S. Department of Labor said the fraud claims were overstated.


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