Man is accused of using stolen identities of UCSD students to get $202,000 in COVID unemployment benefits

A man is charged with using the stolen identities of several UCSD students to obtain fraudulent unemployment benefits.
A man is charged with using the stolen identities of several UC San Diego students to obtain fraudulent unemployment benefits.
(Gary Robbins / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

A man has been charged with using the stolen identities of UC San Diego students to obtain more than $202,000 in fraudulent unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a 60-count indictment unsealed this week in federal court in San Diego.

Nehemiah Joel Weaver, 36, of San Diego was arrested May 9, days after his co-defendant and ex-girlfriend, former UCSD employee Mia Nikole Bell, pleaded guilty last week to one count of felony bank fraud and admitted using her position in the university’s human-resources department to steal the identities of at least eight students.

According to the indictment, Weaver used the fraudulently obtained payments from California’s Employment Development Department to pay $52,597 in cash for a BMW 740i. Around the same time, the indictment states, he deposited $6,650 into his personal checking account, then racked up thousands of dollars in charges at Nike, Gucci, Burberry and Louis Vuitton stores.

The indictment also alleges that Weaver threatened and tried to extort an acquaintance who he believed was cooperating with the grand jury investigation of the case.

At Weaver’s arraignment May 10, U.S. Magistrate Judge Barbara Major ordered him to remain detained based partly on the threat allegations, as well as a previous criminal history and his failure to appear at a 2019 sentencing hearing in an identity theft case in another state.

An attorney for Weaver did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

According to the indictment, the theft of the students’ personal information began in late 2019, before the pandemic.

According to Bell’s plea agreement, Bell used her access as a university employee to steal the names, birth dates and Social Security numbers of several students and gave that information to Weaver, her then-boyfriend. Bell, 31, now lives in Houston. She is scheduled to be sentenced in August, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in San Diego.

Bell’s attorney was not immediately available for comment.

Weaver initially used the identities provided by Bell, and ones he obtained from other sources, to open bank accounts and obtain loans totaling nearly $16,500, according to the indictment.

The indictment alleges that after the pandemic hit and Congress passed legislation boosting unemployment payments, Weaver used the stolen identities to submit at least 15 payment applications to the state Employment Development Department. State officials mailed debit cards for all 15 applications, disbursing payments totaling at least $202,682.

According to the indictment, Weaver pulled off a similar scheme to defraud the Arizona Department of Economic Security, that state’s unemployment agency, obtaining $27,230 in benefits.

Weaver at one point used four of the cards from California in quick succession at the same ATM, according to the indictment. When he bought the luxury BMW sedan with cash, the address he listed on the contract was the one where the EDD had mailed the 15 debit cards.

The indictment alleges that once he was under investigation, Weaver threatened and tried extort others who knew about his actions. He is accused of leaving a toy stuffed rat on the car of someone who was cooperating with investigators and threatened that person through text messages.

A few months later, the indictment states, Weaver sent several more threatening text messages to the same witness, saying the person was “so dead you don’t even know it yet.” According to the document, he also sent a photo of that person’s juvenile daughter along with the threatening messages.

The indictment charges Weaver with 28 counts of aggravated identity theft, 15 counts of mail fraud, nine counts of wire fraud, five counts of bank fraud, two counts of obstructing justice and one count of extortion. The bank fraud charges carry maximum prison sentences of 30 years, while the identity theft charges carry mandatory two-year prison minimums.

Weaver is due back in court next month. ◆