The head of a tax preparation firm, who calls Beachwood home, woman can expect to spend up to eight years in prison for illegally collecting $345,213 in unemployment benefits over a span of nearly three years.

Erica Rivera (NJ Atty. General's Office)

In a Mercer County court room, Erica Rivera, 35, pleaded guilty to a second-degree charge of theft by deception, according to information from the office of New Jersey Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino.

Prosecutors are recommending eight years in return for her plea. Sentencing is scheduled for December 2. She must agree to pay the full amount in restitution to the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce development.

New Jersey labor officials contacted the state's Specialized Crimes Bureau after finding claims they deemed suspicious. The probe grew to involve Philadelphia police, the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office and the Inspector General's office of the U.S. Department of Labor.

Rivera admitted filing false online claims under the identities of 24 people listed as, but who were not actually, employees of Compassionate Financial Services between September 2012 and June 2015.

Investigators said that Rivera used personal identification data of friends, acquaintances, relatives, and customers, apparently without their knowledge. The submissions resulted in 27 claims and 521 payments.

Rivera submitted eligibility certification on line, under the pretense of being each claimant, and adopted some of their identities in phone dialogues with state labor department workers.

She received debit cards, which are given to claimants, at a postal store drop box, which served as the mailing address for most claims. Surveillance cameras at automated teller machines in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington DC captured images of her withdrawing funds with the debit cards.

"Rivera was systematic in her scheme to steal unemployment benefits from the state, but she learned that the state is even more systematic in rooting out fraud," Porrino said. "We'll continue to work with the Department of Labor to put swindlers like Rivera in prison and protect this vital safety net for New Jersey's workers."

Porrino's office says that the Department of Labor has salvaged about $750,000,000 for the state's Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund in stepped-up fraud probes since 2011.

The department uses software that red-flags fraudulent claims by cross-checking details, such as mutliple claims, identical addresses or idential internet protocol (IP) addresses, among internal databases.

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