Ex-NFL player who starred at Miami high school pleads guilty to COVID-19 relief fraud

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Kenbrell Thompkins, a former Miami Northwestern Senior High School football star who played in the NFL, has pleaded guilty to stealing other people’s identities that he used to fleece an unemployment insurance program designed to help struggling workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thompkins now faces up to 12 years in prison after admitting Monday in Miami federal court that he stole the identities of numerous Florida residents to obtain fraudulent unemployment insurance benefits totaling $300,000 from the state of California.

That state distributed the unemployment benefit funds in the form of debit cards, which were subsequently mailed to addresses associated with Thompkins in Miami and Aventura. Thompkins withdrew most of the funds on the debit cards at ATMs in Miami-Dade, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Thompkins, who is represented by the federal public defender’s office, faces sentencing on Jan. 6, 2022, before U.S. District Judge Robert Scola. The former NFL wide receiver, who played for the New England Patriots, Oakland Raiders and New York Jets between 2013 and 2015, faces up to 10 years for access device fraud involving the debit card unemployment benefits and a mandatory minimum of two years for aggravated identity theft.

Thompkins’ fraudulent activity became commonplace during the coronavirus pandemic after Congress passed legislation in 2020 allowing small businesses and unemployed workers to apply for financial benefits under the nearly $650 billion CARES Act.

But most of the COVID-19 relief schemes revolved around the Small Business Administration’s paycheck protection program, which was meant to help businesses decimated by shutdowns caused by the rapid spread of the coronavirus. The program allowed for the loans to be forgiven, if borrowers followed criteria laid out by SBA. Determined to inject money quickly in the faltering economy, the U.S. government waived many traditional requirements that lenders normally check before issuing business loans.

As the nation’s No. 1 fraud capital, South Florida has led the financial crime wave that followed the passage of the CARES Act, according to federal prosecutors.

In South Florida, that’s included a businessman using PPP money to buy a $318,000 Lamborghini, a nurse alleged to have lied about his business to get $474,000 that was used in part to pay a Mercedes-Benz lease and child support, and a North Miami suburban couple that claimed to be farmers to qualify for $1 million in relief benefits.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Florida has charged more than 60 people in COVID-19 relief fraud cases, mostly involving the PPP program, making it the nation’s leader in such prosecutions. Those fraud schemes have totaled loan requests for more than $80 million. Nationally, one study released in August estimated that up to 15 percent of PPP loans may have been fraudulent.

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