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Castro Valley man charged with fraudulently receiving $1 million in COVID unemployment

A Castro Valley resident was charged with fraud after he allegedly obtained more than $1 million in CARES Act unemployment benefits by impersonating other people, officials said.

Between March and July 2020, Idowu Hashim Shittu, 46, allegedly used other people’s personal information to receive unemployment benefits through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act from multiple state agencies, notably the Washington State Employment Security Department. He then withdrew the funds from ATMs in the Bay Area “for his own personal gain,” according to a criminal complaint unsealed in federal court Friday.

Shittu was charged with three counts of access device fraud. If convicted, Shittu could face up to 15 years in prison for each count, and he could be required to pay restitution, fines and other penalties, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California said in a statement.

In the first instance of fraud described in the complaint, Shittu requested CARES Act unemployment benefits from Washington State, claiming to be a real resident of Mercer Island, Wash. He provided the resident’s initials, S.O., and the resident’s real date of birth and social security number. The state responded by depositing more than $9,000 in an account linked to a debit card, prosecutors said.

Investigators found that someone had withdrawn cash from that account at ATMs in several Bay Area cities, including Castro Valley, Hayward and San Jose, and a person matching Shittu’s description was seen withdrawing cash from that account at a Bay Area Walmart, officials said. The real S.O. told investigators that he had not been in California at all in 2020, officials said.

The other two instances described in the complaint were similar to the first, with Shittu allegedly impersonating Washington residents from Seattle and Olympia. He withdrew or spent cash from bank accounts affiliated with those benefits requests in the Bay Area, officials said.

In total, Shittu fraudulently received more than $1 million in unemployment benefits, officials said. The CARES Act was meant to provide hundreds of billions of dollars in unemployment benefits to people who lost income during the pandemic.

“Since then, many state authorities responsible for distributing those unemployment benefits to their residents have been inundated by fraudulent claims,” prosecutors said in the statement. “According to the complaint’s allegations, Shittu fraudulently submitted requests for such benefits and then used some of those proceeds for his own personal gain.”

Shittu could not be reached for comment.

He made his first court appearance on Friday. His next hearing is scheduled for Monday, officials said.

Andy Picon is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: andy.picon@hearst.com Twitter: @andpicon

Read More: Castro Valley man charged with fraudulently receiving $1 million in COVID unemployment

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