click to enlarge East St. Louis resident Talfanita Cobb has been indicted by a federal grand jury. - PAUL SABLEMAN / FLICKR

A federal grand jury has indicted Talfanita M. Cobb, 49, of East St. Louis, Illinois, on charges that she was part of a scheme to steal more than $800,000 in unemployment benefits and COVID-19 relief funds from three states.

In a press release, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois outlined seven charges against Cobb, including conspiracy to commit mail fraud, mail fraud and aggravated identity theft. Prosecutors allege a portion of the money came from “federal pandemic compensation funds.”

According to the indictment, Cobb’s conspirators used stolen identities to apply for unemployment insurance benefits in Arizona, Ohio and Texas. Each application listed Cobb’s address in East St. Louis as the address of the applicant, prosecutors say. Once applications were approved, unemployment benefits issued in the name of victims were sent to Cobb, according to the complaint.

Some of the funds were then reportedly deposited into a bank account controlled by Cobb. The indictment says Cobb’s co-conspirators later acquired debit cards using the victims’ identities. The debit cards were allegedly mailed to Cobb’s address in East St. Louis.

Prosecutors claim Cobb used the debit cards to make withdrawals from different ATMs in the Metro East. She is accused of transferring some of the money to an accomplice using Bitcoin and keeping a percentage of the money for herself.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused tremendous pain and suffering in our country. So many Americans have lost their lives, and many thousands more face severe economic hardship after losing their jobs. For those most affected, the federal government has approved special funds,” U.S. Attorney Steven D. Weinhoeft says in the press release. “It is reprehensible that unscrupulous individuals would take advantage of these new programs to line their own pockets. These individuals should take note: We will investigate and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.”

Cobb is scheduled to be arraigned by United States Magistrate Judge Mark A. Beatty at 10 a.m. on July 7 at the federal courthouse in East St. Louis. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Scott A. Verseman.

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