DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A California man has been charged with setting up fake businesses in three states, then using names taken from temporary visas issued to student visitors on a cultural exchange to obtain more than $355,000 in unemployment benefits for nonexistent workers, federal prosecutors in Iowa said in court documents.
Nikolai Monastyrski is charged in federal court in Iowa with wire and mail fraud related to the scheme that prosecutors say he perpetrated there as well as in Illinois and Pennsylvania.
A complaint filed Nov. 10 by Dana Johnson, a Chicago-based U.S. Department of Labor special agent, says Monastyrski was able to get $114,215 from Iowa Workforce Development in 2014 and 2015 and $230,000 in benefits from Illinois Department of Employment Security. Illinois payouts go as far back as 2012 and some are as recent as earlier this year. Additional claims were made involving two nonexistent businesses in Pennsylvania with payments of more than $11,300 paid out.
The investigation revealed Monastyrski filed the benefits requests from computers in his apartment in Folsom, California, and was observed on bank video cameras withdrawing cash using debit cards on which the unemployment insurance benefits were paid, Johnson said in court documents.
The investigation began in 2013 when the Illinois unemployment officials notified law enforcement that they discovered a scheme involving fictitious employers.
Monastyrski used the names of several individuals who visited the United States under an Exchange Visitor Program with temporary J-1 visas, Johnson alleges in the complaint. The program allows about 300,000 foreign visitors per year as a cultural exchange effort typically for students, professors, researchers, and others. It allows the visitor to work to receive training in the U.S. with a university or business sponsor.
In Illinois 21 individuals for which unemployment claims were made were former J-1 visa visitors who had left the country before benefits were collected using their names.
In Iowa, 20 claimants had left before their identities were used to claim benefits. Nine of the names used in Illinois were also later used to get benefits from Iowa.
Documents show Monastyrski is charged in a 14-count indictment signed by a federal judge in Iowa on Nov. 10. It includes seven charges of mail fraud and seven charges of wire fraud. He was arrested Nov. 18 near Sacramento, California. Case documents were transferred to Iowa and posted publicly on Dec. 14.
Monastyrski appeared in court Thursday in Des Moines where a judge appointed a federal public defender to represent him. He signed a document asserting his constitutional right to remain silent and have a counsel present during all interactions with the government. A Russian translator was required to assist him, court documents said.
He remains in custody and was transported to Davenport, where a hearing was set for Jan. 6 to determine whether he should remain in custody while he awaits trial.
Little information about him appears in court documents. It’s unclear whether he’s U.S. born, a naturalized citizen or has some other immigration status. Court documents say he was identified by comparing bank video cameras in California to a photo on a driver’s license issued to him by the state of Illinois.
The federal public defender appointed to represent him and a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney prosecuting the case declined comment.
Iowa Workforce Development spokeswoman Courtney Greene said the agency cannot comment on pending court cases but added the department works with other state and federal agencies to detect and prevent fraud.
“I can emphasize that the integrity of the Iowa Unemployment Insurance Trust fund is among the highest priorities for Iowa Workforce Development,” she said.
Officials contacted at unemployment agencies in Illinois and Pennsylvania did not immediately respond to messages.
On the heels of posting pictures of themselves in a warm embrace, video has surfaced of Drake and Jennifer Lopez getting close at a high school prom-themed party.
Video posted on social media by fan sites of the two stars shows J-Lo giving Drake a quick kiss after the pair was crowned prom king and queen. They can also be seen dancing to what sounds like a possible collaboration between the singer and rapper.
The pair posed for a prom-style photo for the Winter Wonderland Prom. It’s not clear where or when the event took place.
Lopez and Drake both posted the same picture of them hugging on a couch on Instagram on Tuesday.
The videos and photos have prompted internet speculation of a duet or romance between the two.
GOLDSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Police in North Carolina say someone broke into a local Republican Party office and defaced a wall mural of former President Ronald Reagan.
A Goldsboro police report says the break-in was discovered Thursday.
Police say a door was kicked in at the building housing the Wayne County GOP.
The report says nothing appears to have been stolen, but the vandalism caused hundreds of dollars in damage.
Police Maj. Dwayne Dean says investigators asking nearby businesses whether any surveillance video exists.
The Goldsboro News-Argus first reported the vandalism that includes obscenities and symbols drawn on the painting of Reagan’s face (http://bit.ly/2hCduUv ). It appears a pen or marker was used.
Before the election, someone firebombed a GOP office in Orange County. No one was injured in that October case.
HONOLULU (AP) — The Latest on President Barack Obama’s family vacation in Hawaii (all times local):
A crowd of mostly tourists cheered as President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle arrived at a Waikiki restaurant Thursday night.
The couple dined with friends at Mahina and Sun’s, which focuses on island cuisine.
The presidential party traveled by motorcade to Waikiki from their vacation home in Kailua, about a 35 minute trip.
Earlier in the day, the first family along with some companions soaked up the sun at the beach at Bellows Air Force Station.
President Barack Obama and the rest of the first family are spending the afternoon with friends at the beach at Bellows Air Force Station.
The president’s motorcade arrived at Bellows in the sleepy town of Waimanalo on Oahu’s east coast shortly after 11 a.m.
The Air Force station opened as the Waimanalo Military Reservation in 1917 and was renamed Bellows Field in 1933 after 2nd Lt. Franklin Barney Bellows, a hero of World War I. Since the last runways were closed in 1958, the base has been used primarily as a recreation center for the armed forces.
It is the Obamas’ third visit to Bellows during their annual holiday vacation on Oahu.
President Barack Obama is starting the day with his usual morning workout at the Semper Fit gym on Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
Obama arrived at the Kaneohe Bay gym at about 8 a.m. The president’s motorcade passed about 20 residents, who waved and took video with their cellphones on the way from his Kailua rental home to the nearby base.
Early-morning showers have given way to mostly clear skies and a heavy dose of sunshine on the East side of Oahu.
It is the 13th day of Obama’s annual holiday vacation to his home state of Hawaii.
NEW YORK (AP) — New York City police want to question three women in connection with the hit-and-run death of a popular Spanish radio DJ.
Jean Paul Guerrero was fatally struck crossing a Brooklyn street Dec. 19. He was better known as DJ Jinx Paul on Mega 97.9, a New York Spanish-language radio station that broadcasts tropical music such as salsa and merengue.
Police charged a 27-year-old man who had turned himself in with leaving the scene of the accident and tampering with evidence. But the district attorney declined to prosecute, citing lack of evidence.
WCBS-TV says police believe the three women, described as persons of interest, might be able to shed light on the case. They were caught on surveillance video inside the car of the man who had turned himself in.
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Environmental and public policy groups in New York are calling for a state constitutional amendment that would guarantee residents a right to clean air and water.
Environmental Advocates of New York and EffectiveNY are promoting the proposed amendment with online video ads Thursday featuring children from Hoosick Falls, where water wells have been contaminated by an industrial chemical.
“You shouldn’t have to fight for clean water,” says 15-year-old Mikayla Baker, a Hoosick Falls ninth-grader featured in one of the two videos.
The groups say a constitutional amendment would give residents more power to hold state lawmakers and regulators accountable for ensuring a healthy environment.
Six states have environmental rights provisions in their constitutions. A 1971 Environmental Rights Amendment to Pennsylvania’s constitution was the basis for a state Supreme Court ruling in 2013 that said municipalities have a right to zone against shale gas development. Drilling in the underground shale has resulted in public health and environmental concerns.
In Hoosick Falls, special filters were installed on public and private wells contaminated with the industrial chemical PFOA that has been linked to cancer and other illness. Residents there have accused the administration of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo of being too slow to launch an investigation and warn people after the contamination came to light in 2014.
At a state Senate hearing in August, Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said the state followed federal guidelines in addressing the issue.
“In 2016, we saw communities in New York struggling with clean drinking water and clean air,” Environmental Advocates executive director Peter Iwanowicz said. “What was missing was clear language in the state constitution giving people the right to drink water that won’t make them sick and breathe air that’s safe.”
State regulators also drew criticism this year from community residents and environmental groups for their handling of air permits for oil terminals at the Port of Albany. As a result, the Department of Environmental Conservation in September said it will require an extensive new review of permits originally issued in 2012 that turned Albany into a major hub for crude oil rail shipments from North Dakota.
“Constitutional protection means that even if a state agency or the Legislature does the wrong thing through regulation or statute, people have the ability to use our courts to get us to do the right thing,” said Democratic state Sen. Liz Krueger, a potential sponsor of the amendment when it’s drafted.
Residents now have the right to bring lawsuits challenging environmental laws or regulations, but a constitutional amendment would give stronger weight to their arguments, Iwanowicz said.