A concerned attorney who has resigned from the legal profession during multiple disciplinary proceedings. A suspect in a notorious 2016 Salinas murder and the suspect’s sister. A pair of convicted burglars on trial for drug and gun possession, a suspected car thief who is also accused of drug possession, and another suspected car thief who is accused of possessing tools and equipment and evading the police.
These are the first to be indicted by Monterey County’s attorneys on a massive, statewide fraud in the California Department of Employment Development – a scheme organized by prison inmates with outside assistance.
The Monterey County Prosecutor’s Office filed a conspiracy count, nine false statements, and two money laundering counts against the defendants on February 2. These include Reynaldo Garcia Gomez, a UCLA Law School graduate who joined Hollister as a lawyer in 1990 and retired from the practice in 1998 after multiple disciplinary proceedings and prosecution convictions. Also indicted are Lenny Sanks, who is on trial with his brother Jerry Lee Sanks when he avenged Kareem Jamal King in Chinatown in 2016. The Sanks’ sister, Nicole, has also been charged on the EDD system. Lenny Sanks and the remaining defendants – Tony Tran, Lanh Truong, Juan Castillo Lopez and Zachary Dobbs – were all held in Monterey County Jail, while arrest warrants were issued for Nicole Sanks and Gomez.
What sparked it was simple technology, say prosecutors and police. Calls to and from inmates must be recorded, and some of the defendants were recorded to speak through the system.
“They exchanged information about the prison. It was, “Hurry up, hurry up, it’s free money, man, you have to get into it,” says Assistant District Attorney Steve Somers. “When someone in custody received Covid aid, we had to determine whether they were involved or whether someone was using their information.”
According to the California Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, numbers released in November showed prisoners – or someone who uses their names – filed 35,003 jobless claims, resulting in payouts of $ 140 million. On the spot, a team that includes Somers, a prosecutor’s investigator and a forensic accountant are investigating 66 other Monterey County prison inmates whose names have been used to receive benefits.
Cmdr. Kathy Palazzolo says the call that started the investigation was on an unrelated case and was listening to a separate law enforcement agency. When they overheard the conversation in which an inmate was taped talking to someone outside about receiving unemployment benefits, they contacted the sheriff’s office.
After the first round of cases were filed on Feb.2, Palazzolo hopes people will understand the seriousness of the problem.
“This money was meant for people who have lost their jobs. It wasn’t intended for people in custody, ”she says. “It’s really sad for me,” she says. “We’ll all pay for that.”
The defendants, who are already in custody, will be charged on February 5.