Mississippi college football player arrested in alleged COVID fraud scheme while at USC

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A Mississippi college football player was arrested Monday on charges he allegedly orchestrated a scheme to defraud the government out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in COVID-19 relief funds during his time while playing in Southern California.

Abdul-Malik McClain, 22, a member of the Jackson State University football program, surrendered to federal authorities in Los Angeles, the Justice Department said. He is charged with 10 counts of mail fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft.

He pleaded not guilty and was released on a $20,000 bond. A criminal complaint doesn’t list the university, but the alleged fraud occurred in 2020 from July to September, while McClain was living in Los Angeles and a member of the University of Southern California Trojans football team. 

Abdul-Malik McClain, 22, when he was a member of the USC football program. McClain was arrested Monday in connection with a COVID relief fraud scheme. 
(John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“When the university learned of this matter in September 2020, we notified law enforcement and have been fully cooperating with authorities,” the university said in a statement to Fox News. “We are unable to provide additional information because this is pending criminal matter.”

Federal prosecutors said McClain organized and assisted his teammates in filing fraudulent claims for unemployment benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), a program established by Congress to help reduce the economic fallout caused by the pandemic. 

The claims were filed with California’s Employment Development Department (EDD) using false information about the players’ prior employment. They also lied about job losses related to the pandemic and their supposed efforts in seeking employment in California, prosecutors said.  

They allegedly claimed they were athletic trainers and tutors whose employment had been negatively impacted by the pandemic. In total, 36 applications were filed and nearly $230,000 in benefits were paid out. 

The applications sought more than $903,000 in funds, according to court documents. 

The false claims resulted in Bank of America issuing debit cards in the names of the claimants. The cards were mailed to addresses where they could collect mail, the complaint said. 

Representatives for JSU declined to comment to Fox News on the matter. 

A JSU branded helmet on the sideline prior to the Southern Heritage Classic game between the Jackson State University Tigers and the Tennessee State Tigers on Saturday Sept. 14, 2019 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, TN. 
(Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

In September 2020, USC suspended McClain’s younger brother, wide receiver Munir McClain, after federal investigators began inquiring about potential fraud related to the PUA program. Agents visited the younger McClain’s dorm room looking for Abdul-Malik McClain, the Los Angeles Times reported. 

Munir McClain transferred to the University of Utah earlier this year. 

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