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Former Jackson State football player faces up to 20 years for COVID fraud scheme

Abdul-Malik McClain
Abdul-Malik McClain (Photo courtesy of Jackson State Athletics)

A former Jackson State football player faces up to 20 years behind bars for fraudulently seeking and obtaining pandemic unemployment funds.

Abdul-Malik McClain, 24, pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud on Monday. He fessed up to orchestrating a scheme that fraudulently sought more than $1 million and obtained more than $280,000 in benefits related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

McClain, a former four-star linebacker prospect, began his college career at Southern California before transferring to Jackson State in 2021 during the Deion Sanders era. He is reported to have set up the scheme with fellow Trojan football players while in Los Angeles.

“Instead of using his time at a major university to advance his athletic and academic life, this defendant took advantage of a public health emergency to fraudulently obtain government benefits,” United States Attorney Martin Estrada said. “My office will continue to vigorously prosecute individuals who used the recent pandemic for their own unlawful ends.”

According to his plea agreement, while a member of the USC football team, McClain filed fraudulent claims for unemployment benefits and organized and assisted a group of other football players in following suit, including under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program established by Congress in response to COVID-19’s economic fallout.

McClain and others filed the claims with the California Employment Development Department (EDD), the administrator of the state’s unemployment insurance (UI) benefit program. The claims contained false information about the claimants’ supposed prior employment, pandemic-related job loss, and job-seeking efforts in California.

The false statements in the UI applications led EDD to authorize Bank of America to mail debit cards addressed to the named claimants, often to addresses that McClain controlled, to ensure that he received the debit cards. The debit cards were loaded with various amounts in fraudulently obtained benefits, ranging from a few hundred to thousands of dollars, which the recipients of the debit cards, including in many instances McClain himself, used to make cash withdrawals at ATMs and to fund personal expenses.

In some cases, McClain sought and obtained a cut of the fraudulently obtained benefits for helping others file fraudulent UI applications.

The former college football player will stand trial on September 16.

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