Rochester woman pleads guilty to falsely collecting unemployment money

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — A Rochester woman pleaded guilty to falsely applying for unemployment and collecting the money during the pandemic.

Melanie Armstrong, 55, pleaded guilty to wire fraud involving national emergency benefits, filing false claims against a government agency, and transfer of a means of identification. She is facing up to 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

Federal attorneys say Armstrong falsely applied for the New York State unemployment benefits and used the identities of others to collect the benefits between July 2020 and August 2021. Attorneys say she also collected unemployment in her own name by falsely claiming that she had no source of income. Altogether, Armstrong took more $131,000 in benefits and applied for another $250,000 more.

Attorneys also say she filed 19 false income tax returns with the IRS and 17 false tax returns with New York State. Those returns contained false and inflated wages and income tax withholdings. As a result, the IRS issued about $101,00 in tax refunds for Armstrong and others she filed for. She received about $18,750 in fraudulent refunds from New York State.

An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor and the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance led to the guilty plea. She will be sentenced at a later date.