SANTA ANA, Calif. (CNS) -- A 37-year-old Santa Ana man was sentenced to seven years in federal prison for fraudulently applying for $1.2 million in COVID-19 unemployment insurance.
Nhan Hoang Pham pleaded guilty Jan. 23 to a count of wire fraud for applying for about $1.2 million in unemployment benefits and raking in about $400,000, according to federal prosecutors.
Starting in July 2020 and through April 2021, Pham applied for about $1,255,350 in unemployment insurance, using stolen personal identities of residents in California, Texas and Michigan, according to the plea deal. In all, there were 24 ID theft victims and Pham received $408,496, according to the plea deal.
Pham's attorney, M. Bo Griffith of the Federal Public Defender's Office, sought a 63-month sentence, according to court records.
Pham immigrated from Vietnam with his family in 2009 and enlisted in the U.S. Army, Griffith said. He began serving in Afghanistan in December 2009 when he was "tasked with driving supply trucks between depots and forward operating bases in combat zones," Griffith said in court papers. "The ubiquity of IED attacks made this a notoriously dangerous job."
Pham's vehicle was hit by an IED and the defendant "recalls only the blast," Griffith said.
After leaving active duty he began experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, his attorney said. When he sought treatment with Veterans Affairs officials could not find his active duty medical file and he was refused help, his attorney said.
"Around this same time he was introduced to crack cocaine by a dubious acquaintance," Griffith said. "He self-medicated with crack cocaine, until it became prohibitively expensive, and he switched to methamphetamine."
He was first arrested on drug-related charges in July 2011 and was in and out of legal trouble for drug-related crimes, his attorney said. the defendant also became addicted to gambling, the lawyer said.
Pham asked U.S. District Judge James Selna to recommend him for the Bureau of Prison's Residential Drug Abuse Program.
Selna ordered Pham to pay $408,496 in restitution.