An Antelope Valley woman pleaded guilty Wednesday in a mail fraud scheme that used personal data stolen from elderly victims in an effort to defraud the state’s unemployment insurance program out of nearly $300,000.
Dena Buttram of Littlerock, 32 — who also uses the last name Peterman — pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud pursuant to a plea agreement filed Tuesday in Los Angeles federal court, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Over the course of two years, Buttram and co-conspirators stole Social Security numbers and other personal identifying information that was used to defraud the California Employment Development Department, which administers the state unemployment insurance program, prosecutors said.
Buttram targeted senior citizens as part of the scam, obtaining the data from elderly victims in California and elsewhere by telling them that they had an opportunity to be cast in remakes of popular movies, court documents show.
To further the scheme, Buttram and others created bogus companies supposedly related to the movie industry with names such as Nine Maids Movie Production, Western Film Animation and High Desert Productions.
Using the stolen personal information, a co-conspirator filed fictitious wage reports with the EDD and then fraudulently sought unemployment insurance benefits for the people who supposedly worked for the movie companies, according to prosecutors.
The EDD subsequently provided unemployment insurance benefits in the names of these individuals through debit cards that were mailed to addresses that Buttram or her co-conspirators controlled, officials said.
As a result of the scheme, Buttram sought more than $290,000 in unemployment insurance benefits, and the EDD suffered losses of roughly $220,000, federal prosecutors said.
Buttram faces up to five years in federal prison when she is sentenced Jan. 6.