A San Diego man has been charged with using the stolen identities of UC San Diego students to obtain more than $202,000 in fraudulent unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to 60 indictments unsealed in San Diego federal court this week.
Authorities arrested 36-year-old Nehemiah Joel Weaver Monday, just as his co-defendant and ex-girlfriend, a former UC San Diego employee, pleaded guilty to one count of felony bank fraud and using her account in the university’s human resources department. Days after the post, the department stole the identities of at least eight students.
According to the indictment, Weaver paid $52,597 in cash to purchase a BMW 740i using money defrauded from the California Employment Development Department. Around the same time, he deposited $6,650 into his personal checking account and then charged thousands of dollars at Nike, Gucci, Burberry and Louis Vuitton stores.
The indictment also alleges Weaver threatened and attempted to blackmail acquaintances he believed were cooperating with the grand jury investigation.
At Tuesday’s arraignment, U.S. District Judge Barbara Major ordered Weaver to remain in custody, in part because of those alleged threats, as well as a previous criminal record and his failure to attend 2019 for identity theft in another state Sentencing hearing of the case.
Weaver’s lawyers did not immediately respond to emails and phone messages seeking comment on Thursday.
According to the indictment, the theft of students’ personal information began in late 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Bell’s plea deal, Mia Nicola Bell abused her access as a university employee by stealing the names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of several students and giving the information to her then-boyfriend, Wayne Eph. Bell, 31, now lives in Houston. She pleaded guilty to bank fraud charges last week and is scheduled to be sentenced in August, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego.
Bell’s attorney, who attended the hearing Thursday afternoon, could not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The indictment alleges that Weaver initially used the identities provided by Bell and those he obtained from other sources to open bank accounts and obtain loans totaling nearly $16,500.
After the pandemic struck and Congress passed legislation to increase unemployment benefits, Weaver used the stolen identity to file at least 15 applications for such payments with the state’s Employment Development Department, the indictment said. State officials mailed debit cards for all 15 applications with payments totaling at least $202,682.
According to the indictment, Weaver implemented a similar scheme to defraud the Arizona Department of Economic Security into obtaining $27,230 in fraudulent benefits from the state’s unemployment agency.
Weaver took steps to hide his actions, at one point using four cards from California in rapid succession at the same ATM, according to the indictment. When he bought the luxury BMW sedan with cash, the address he listed on the contract was the same address where the Employment Development Department mailed 15 debit cards.
But once under investigation, Weaver did try to hide his actions by threatening and blackmailing others who knew of his actions, the indictment said. According to the document, he left a stuffed toy mouse in the car of a person cooperating with investigators and threatened the person via text message.
A few months later, Weaver sent several more threatening text messages to the same cooperating witness, telling that person he or she “was dead and you didn’t even know it,” the indictment said. He also posted a photo of the man’s underage daughter along with a threatening message.
The indictment charges Weaver with 28 counts of aggravated identity theft, 15 counts of mail fraud, nine counts of wire fraud, five counts of bank fraud, two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of racketeering. The bank fraud charge carries a maximum sentence of 30 years, while the identity theft charge carries a mandatory two-year sentence.
Weaver will return to court next month.