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The arrests Wednesday of Mark "Big Head" King of Judsonia and two other men prompted the unsealing of an Oct. 4 federal indictment accusing 20 White County residents of conspiring over five years to steal more than $500,000 in unearned unemployment benefits.

King, 52, was described by U.S. Attorney Cody Hiland and Steven Grell, special agent in charge of the Dallas office of the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General, as the "ringleader" of the conspiracy.

"Our office is committed to protecting the integrity of important federal programs," Hiland said. He added that federal prosecutors will continue working with Labor Department investigators to prosecute anyone trying to take advantage of the programs, noting that the scheme "ultimately hurts taxpayers and those who truly need assistance."

The department, in collaboration with the U.S. attorney's office, began investigating the case in the spring of 2016 with assistance from White County law enforcement agencies, Hiland said.

The indictment alleges that from June 2012 through August 2017, King created employer business accounts in 16 states, including Arkansas, using fictitious business names, all with addresses in Arkansas.

He then falsely reported to the unemployment agencies in each state that the companies had paid him and others for work they had performed, the indictment alleges. Once that false information was provided, it says, King and the others -- including both indicted and unindicted co-conspirators -- began making claims at different times through the respective state agencies for unemployment benefits.

Each of them -- including some who were incarcerated -- claimed that they were currently unemployed through no fault of their own, were available for work and were actively seeking employment, according to the indictment, which notes that the conditions are a requirement for receiving unemployment benefits.

Because King didn't contest the claims on behalf of the fictitious businesses, the Labor Department paid the claims, according to the indictment.

The federal and state unemployment insurance system is designed to provide financial benefits to people who become unemployed through no fault of their own to sustain necessities of life while they look for work. The federal government funds administrative costs of the state agencies that administer the program, and the benefits themselves are financed by taxes paid by employers.

About $503,000 was stolen as a result of the conspiracy, according to the news release.

In addition to King, Alan Gentry and Benjamin Bradley were arrested Wednesday, according to the news release. It said one of the defendants, Natalie Floyd, was already in federal prison, while another, Mark Scheffler, was in the custody of the Arkansas Department of Correction, both on unrelated charges.

Those arrested Wednesday are scheduled for arraignment today in Little Rock, while the remaining defendants will be served with summonses to appear in federal court at a later date.

Grell said investigations into allegations of fraud related to unemployment insurance programs are an important mission of the Office of Inspector General.

Anyone convicted of wire-fraud conspiracy faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

The case remains under investigation by the Labor Department with assistance from the White County sheriff's office and the police departments in Judsonia, Searcy and Bald Knob. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Angela Jegley.

The other defendants named in the indictment are Tara Blair, James Gregory Bunker, Kristin Coburn, Cherrie Davis, Faith Donnell, Delanna Edwards, Brandy Harley, Joshua Jackson, Lisa Jones, Michael King, James Landis, William Damon Perkins, John Schnebly, Rachel Turner and Rhonda Turner.

Metro on 10/11/2018

Print Headline: 3 more suspects arrested in jobless-benefits fraud

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