Former Jackson State football player pleads guilty in COVID fraud scheme

Published 7:32 pm Wednesday, June 19, 2024

LOS ANGELES — A former Jackson State football player has pleaded guilty to illegally seeking more than $1 million in COVID-19 unemployment benefits and obtaining more than $280,000 in the scheme.

Abdul-Malik McClain, 24, pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said in a news release.

McClain initially faced 10 counts of mail fraud and two counts of aggregated identity theft. He will be sentenced Sept. 16 and faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.

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McClain played linebacker at Southern California in 2018 to 2020, then transferred to Jackson State. He played in one game for Jackson State in 2021, and was arrested for his role in the COVID funds scheme in December 2021.

According to his plea agreement, while a member of USC’s football team, McClain filed fraudulent claims for unemployment benefits and organized and assisted a group of other football players in filing fraudulent claims for unemployment benefits, 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, such that McClain — and not the named claimants — received the debit cards. Those debit cards were loaded with various amounts in fraudulently obtained benefits, ranging from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars in unemployment benefits, 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.

McClain’s and his co-schemers’ fraudulent applications sought at least $1,056,092 in UI benefits from EDD and led to receiving at least $283,063 in fraudulently obtained benefits.

According to the Los Angeles Times, McClain transferred from USC in November 2020 after his brother, Munir, was suspended from the football team following a complaint that was filed about USC students being approached with a plan to apply for EDD benefits. Abdul-Malik McClain was never suspended, but the McClain family confirmed to The Times in October 2020 that Abdul-Malik received benefits from the PUA program.

Munir McClain transferred to Utah, and has played in 22 games over the past three seasons.