The former tax preparer from Beachwood, who admitted collecting well over a quarter-million dollars in unearned unemployment benefits, heads to prison for seven years.

Erica Rivera (NJ Atty. General's Office)

Erica Rivera, 35, was sentenced in Mercer County today for her September guilty plea to second-degree theft by deception, according to the office of New Jersey Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino.

Rivera's plea bargain calls for her to pay the full $345,213 she collected, in restitution to the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Porrino's office says that so far, she's paid $31,000.

As operator of the now-defunct Compassionate Financial Services tax prep business, Rivera admitted collecting the checks under the identities and data of 24 relatives, friends and clients, claimed as employees.

Rivera admitted collecting 521 benefits through 27 claims, entering weekly, web-based certification under each fictitious identity that eligibility requirements were met. Rivera also assumed variouis identities in telephone exchanges with Labor Department workers, investigators said.

She received debit cards, used for unemployment benefits, at a post office box which served as the address on most claims, and was seen in surveillance images using the cards at automatic teller machines in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC.

The probe eventually involved investigators from the AG's offices in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Police Department, and the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General.

According to Porrino's office, the Department of Labor has rooted out more than $750,000,000 in unemployment fraud since 2011, using updated software and programs that cross-check information through multiple database to reveal identical residences or Internet protocol addresses, or similar discrepancies.

 

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