A Springfield man has pleaded guilty to using Louisiana residents' personal information — including that of prison inmates and dead people — to collect $95,000 in COVID unemployment benefits, the U.S. Attorney's Office said Friday.

Chaz Ryan Watkins, 35, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and could get up to 20 years in prison, according to a news release.

Prosecutors say Watkins obtained the names, birth dates and Social Security numbers for multiple people, including several inmates and used the information to apply for pandemic unemployment assistance benefits through the Louisiana Workforce Commission. 

Watkins had the money deposited into his financial accounts or prepaid debit cards, then withdrew it as cash at ATMs at "various financial institutions," the release said.

"Once again we see that whenever there is a public emergency, fraudsters will be there to pounce," Louisiana Inspector General Stephen Street said in the release. "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."

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