Laredo resident charged in employment benefits fraud scheme - Houston weather, traffic, news | FOX 26 | MyFoxHouston

Laredo resident charged in employment benefits fraud scheme

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AUSTIN, Texas -

The Texas Workforce Commission has announced that a Laredo resident was arrested and faces several charges related to unemployment insurance fraud.

Sergio Hinojosa is charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States, theft of public money, and mail and wire fraud. The charges resulted from an alleged scheme to file fraudulent unemployment insurance claims by using fictitious employer accounts that investigators say Hinojosa created.

A joint investigation by TWC, the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of the Inspector General, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Internal Affairs led to the arrest of Hinojosa and the filing of criminal charges against him.

The TWC investigation began after someone anonymously submitted information to the McAllen Tele-Center. As a result of the investigation, TWC was able to avoid paying approximately $1.1 million in false claims.

"TWC thoroughly investigates those individuals who seek to defraud the UI benefits program," said TWC Chairman Andres Alcantar. "Our agency is committed to protecting those benefits for individuals who lose their jobs through no fault of their own, and the Texas employers who fund the program."

Hinojosa allegedly charged claimants a fee to file fraudulent claims by telephone, at which time he would create a fictitious last employer and take other fraudulent actions to ensure the UI claims were paid, based on the criminal complaint filed against him.

The investigation attributed 119 fictitious claims filed between 2008 and May 2013 to Hinojosa, according to the complaint.

The TWC lost almost approximately $721,000 as a result of the suspected fraudulent claims.

"TWC remains vigilant in ensuring that the unemployment benefits program fulfills its intended purpose of assisting Texans who lose their work without fault," said TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Ronny Congleton. "We will vigorously pursue anyone who threatens the integrity of the program."

If convicted, Hinojosa faces 20 years in federal prison for each of the mail and wire fraud charges, five years for the conspiracy charge and 10 years for theft of public money. Each charge also carries a $250,000 fine as possible punishment.

"Defrauding the state and the tax-paying employers of Texas is a serious offense. These charges send a message to those who would commit such crimes that TWC will aggressively investigate and prosecute you," said TWC Commissioner Representing Employers Hope Andrade.

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