STOCKTON, Calif. — If convicted, a 24-year-old woman from Stockton could face 20 years in prison for mail fraud, 30 years in prison for bank fraud, and 20 years in prison for obstruction of justice.
Information surrounding the 17-count indictment against Hopelyn Rhiannon Ausk was released Friday, Oct. 29, by the U.S. Attorney's office in Sacramento. Charges include aggravated identity theft, possession of stolen U.S. mail, unlawful possession of U.S. Postal Service keys, and obstruction of justice.
Charges against Ausk:
- In 2020, Ausk perpetrated a mail fraud scheme that targeted the Unemployment Insurance benefit program that California administers through its Employment Development Department (EDD).
Under the 2020 CARES Act and the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, EDD is responsible for administering unemployment insurance benefits for qualifying residents who can no longer find employment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ausk got the personally identifiable information (PII) of at least 20 people and filed fraudulent unemployment insurance benefit claims under the identities of those people.
Many of those claims were approved by EDD, and the office mailed prepaid debit cards to the addresses assigned to those claims. Each address was "under Ausk's control," according to a press release shared by U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott.
Once she got the cards, Ausk allegedly activated them and spent the money on herself.
- In 2019 and 2020, Ausk also took part in a bank fraud scheme that involved stealing United States mail, identity theft, and use of stolen bank cards.
Investigators said Ausk was able to get the mail because she made counterfeit keys to break into several of the U.S. Postal Service's "cluster mailboxes."
It's believed that by using the mail, Ausk was able to get the personal information of the fraud victims and use that information to even use their bank cards and get cash to spend on herself.
Investigators said some of the stolen mail included stimulus checks mailed to Californians.
Additional charges and conviction:
Ausk is also charged with obstruction of justice because, as alleged in the indictment, she corruptly obstructed, influenced, and impeded an official proceeding, and attempted to do so, by warning criminal associates about the existence and course of a criminal investigation and prosecution and directing those criminal associates to destroy evidence.
“The EDD is committed to doing everything possible to protect the unemployment insurance program and the essential benefits it provides to Californians in need,” EDD Director Sharon Hilliard said in a press release. “We are grateful for the partnership with law enforcement and other agencies at the federal, state and local level to expose, charge, and prosecute offenders to the fullest extent of the law.”
If convicted, Ausk faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison for mail fraud, 30 years in prison for bank fraud, and 20 years in prison for obstruction of justice.
She also faces a mandatory additional sentence of two years in prison if convicted of aggravated identity theft and a maximum fine of $250,000 on each count.
Again at this time, the charges against Ausk are only allegations. She is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.