A Paterson, NJ man who runs a Harlem comedy club pleaded guilty today to a federal charge of wire fraud for helping to suck money out of the Massachusetts pandemic unemployment fund, the US Attorney's office in Boston reports.
Omar Thompson, also known as Omar the Comedian, and an as yet unnamed co-conspirator first set up their own accounts on the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance Web site for pandemic-related unemployment after the federal government began giving states money for pandemic unemployment in the spring of 2020, according to an affidavit by a Secret Service agent on the case.
Thompson, who has no connection to Massachusetts, received a total of $19,000 in Massachusetts payments - even as he was getting another $21,000 from a separate federal small-business fund for his comedy club in New York.
He set up his account with Massachusetts in May, 2020, a month after he applied for unemployment in New Jersey, the affidavit states. Later in the year, he tried setting up a second account for himself, this time listing a Springfield, MA address - but directing that his money go to his checking account in New Jersey.
After their own payments started flowing, the two then used the personal information of a variety of relatives and others in creating some 100 Massachusetts accounts, which paid out some $1.2 million in claims. None of the relatives lived in Massachusetts, either - and some were already getting unemployment in their actual home states. The IP numbers tracked by the state Web site led to computers owned by Thompson and his co-conspirator, the affidavit states.
According to the affidavit, the state paid out on 50 claims from accounts that used out-of-state driver's licenses and mailing addresses on their online forms - in some cases involving people who were already drawing unemployment in other states.
As part of its effort to prove that Thompson was not a Massachusetts resident, the FBI scrolled through his social-media accounts going back at least two years. The affidavit cited an Instagram page from 2019 showing Thompson holding a New Jersey business certificate for his then new company, Oceans of Laughs.
Thompson now faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, although the harshest sentences are typically reserved for repeat offenders. He faces sentencing on March 22.