2 sentenced for conspiring with Michigan unemployment worker to steal thousands in pandemic relief

Johnny Richardson, Micahia Taylor sentenced

Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency

DETROIT – A man and a woman from Detroit have been sentenced for conspiring with a Michigan unemployment worker to steal thousands of dollars in pandemic relief funds.

Johnny Richardson, 27, and Micahia Taylor, 28, both of Detroit, are accused of conspiring with Brandi Hawkins -- a former contract employee for the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency -- to steal government funds intended for people who lost their jobs during the COVID pandemic.

Officials said Richardson and Taylor are responsible for filing dozens of fake unemployment claims in Michigan and across at least four other states. In some of those claims, they used their own personal information, but in others, stolen identities were used, according to authorities.

Richardson and Taylor would provide Hawkins with information about those claims, and she would use her insider access to fraudulently release payment, officials said.

The conspiracy resulted in the wrongful disbursement of at least $683,555, according to federal officials.

Richardson and Taylor both pleaded guilty in 2021 to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. They were sentenced Wednesday (April 13).

Richardson was sentenced to 97 months in federal prison, and Taylor was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison. They were also ordered to pay $683,555 in restitution.

“The defendants in this case used the COVID-19 pandemic to line their pockets with government funds earmarked to help those in need,” U.S. Attorney Dawn Ison said. “My office is committed to rooting out and holding responsible those who exploited this crisis for their own personal gain.”

Hawkins was sentenced in October 2021 to 58 months in federal prison. She was ordered to pay $3,793,186 in restitution -- the amount of fraudulently disbursed funds she received, according to authorities.

“At a time when thousands of people across Michigan were out of work because of the pandemic, these defendants were stealing benefits that should have gone to those trying to sustain their families,” said James A. Tarasca, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Detroit division. “We thank our state and federal partners for their efforts to investigate unemployment insurance fraud.”

About the Author:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.