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DA: 17 Long Islanders charged in unemployment insurance scam

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A joint investigation by Nassau County prosecutors and state labor investigators has led criminal charges against 17 Long Islanders, accused of stealing nearly $270,000 in unemployment benefits, the Nassau DA’s office said Thursday.

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In a Dec. 26 news release, prosecutors said the 17 people were each charged with third-degree grand larceny and face up to seven years in prison, if they are convicted.

They are all accused of collecting unemployment insurance benefits while being employed. Prosecutors said they each failed to notify the state labor department about their new jobs, as required under state regulations.

"Unemployment insurance is meant to help honest workers get through hard times while they look for jobs, but these defendants are charged with abusing that trust and assistance by cheating the system," Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said. "Thankfully the Department of Labor caught the scams and we'll work together to prosecute these cases and return fairness to New York taxpayers."

The suspects were all arrested within the past month and now have ongoing criminal cases, prosecutors said. They are: Maryann Branchfeld, 47, of Massapequa Park; Drew Himmel, 55, of West Hempstead; Lechelle Holston, 47, of Roosevelt; Janiva Jones, 28, of Baldwin; Carmerose Julien, 36, of Hempstead; Robert Kennedy, 52, of Massapequa; Alfred Lombardi, 37, of Garden City; Terry McCrimmon, 48, of Westbury; Matthew O’Leary, 48, of Patchogue; Alejandrino Ortiz, 45, of Westbury; Tiffany Pettway, 29, of Westbury; Sonia Ramirez, 57, of Elmont; Christopher Ray, 44, of Freeport; Neal Rivera, 49, of Valley Stream; Steven Soto, 49, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Kevin Thomas, 50, of Hempstead; and Steven Trakis, 31, of Long Beach.

Online court records show each of the defendants have pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges.

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