Ft. Branch mother and daughter charged with COVID-19 related wire fraud

Crime

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FT. BRANCH, Ind (WEHT) Authorities say a mother and daughter had been involved in a wire fraud scheme for more than a year, but got caught when they started exploiting the CARES act.

According to prosecutors, the Fort Branch Police Department received a complaint on May 15 from Field and Main Bank in Evansville about unemployment benefits from Washington state being transferred into Indiana bank accounts. The accounts were held by Rose Ann Azzarello, 60, and Audrea Renee Pytlinski, 38.

Prosecutors say the benefits transfer was part of an alleged check scam. For more than a year, Azzaarello and Pytlinski allegedly participated in a wire fraud scheme by receiving and sending funds via wire and common courier as directed by someone only known as “William Lewis”. As the illicit funds were deposited into their accounts, Azzarello and Pytlinski would withdraw the funds quickly and then transmit a portion of the ill-gotten funds to a third party while retaining their share.

Officials say the two women were exploiting the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act which was signed into law by President Trump on March 27. The United States Secret Service has received reports about a well-organized fraud ring exploiting the COVID-19 crisis to commit large-scale fraud against state unemployment insurance programs. The primary state targeted so far is Washington.

This fraud network is believed to consist of hundreds, if not thousands, of money mules with potential losses in the millions of dollars. The financial institutions targeted have been at all levels including local banks, credit unions and large national banks.

Azzarello and Pytlinski each face up to 20 years’ imprisonment, 3 years of supervised release, and a maximum fine of $250,000.

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(This story was originally published on July 9, 2020)

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