TACOMA - A Moses Lake man and former state Employment Security Department employee pleaded guilty Thursday in U.S. District Court to three felonies for exploiting his employment for personal enrichment and fraudulently distributing at least $360,000 in pandemic-related unemployment benefits.
Reyes De La Cruz, 48, pleaded guilty to bribery, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. Prosecutors say he personally enriched himself by at least $130,000 with his scheme.
De la Cruz was arrested in September 2021 in Moses Lake and has been in federal custody since his arrest.
Prosecutors say the man was hired as an intake agent in 2020 to help the Employment Security Department handle an increase of filings for unemployment benefits. De La Cruz had previously worked for the department from 1996 to 2003.
From July 2020 to March 2021, De La Cruz used his employee access to the claims database to defraud the benefits system, according to court records. De La Cruz, at least 10 times, accepted bribes in exchange for engineering benefit payments for people by make false entries in the claims database and in many cases, the person did not qualify for benefits.
De La Cruz also filed claims using other people’s personal information without authorization and had the benefits paid to debit cards he mailed to himself.
Federal prosecutors are recommending a six-year federal prison term sentence for De La Cruz as part of the plea agreement.