BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — A Springfield man pleads guilty to wire fraud in connection with a pandemic unemployment benefits fraud scheme.

According to U.S. Attorney Ronald Gathe Jr., Chaz Watkins, 35, of Springfield admitted that using Louisiana inmates’ and other’s personal information between December 2019 and September 2021 to submit claims for pandemic unemployment assistance.

Watkins requested the money from the unemployment benefits be sent to his personal accounts or to pre-paid debit cards mailed to addresses he controlled, according to Gathe. Once he received the money, Watkins withdrew the funds in cash from different ATMs, receiving over $95,000 in unemployment benefits.

“Those who take advantage of COVID relief benefits, of any type, will be dealt with harshly by this office. I want to thank our prosecutors and our federal and state partners for their hard work bringing this offender to justice,” said Gathe.

“Once again we see that whenever there is a public emergency, fraudsters will be there to pounce,” said Louisiana Inspector General Stephen Street. “Chaz Watkins used the names and personal identifying information of incarcerated prisoners and deceased individuals to fraudulently enrich himself and deprive others who had a legitimate need for these emergency benefits. Now Mr. Watkins must bear the criminal consequences for his actions. The Louisiana Inspector General will continue to relentlessly pursue fraudsters who take advantage of an emergency to steal from the taxpayers.”

Watkins faces up to 20 years in prison, officials said.