A federal grand jury indicted a San Diego man for allegedly using the stolen personal information of UC San Diego students to obtain more than $202,000 in fraudulent unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. 36-year-old Nehemiah Joel Weaver, who was arrested on Monday, is charged with 60 felony counts, including 28 counts of aggravated identity theft, 15 counts of mail fraud, nine counts of wire fraud, five counts of bank fraud, two counts of obstructing justice, and one count of extortion.
If convicted, he faces a mandatory 2-year prison minimum for identity theft. Bank fraud charges are punishable by up to 30 years in prison, extortion charges carry maximum prison sentences of 3 years, and obstruction of justice carry maximum prison sentences of 5 years, along with substantial fines.
Weaver’s ex-girlfriend, co-defendant, and former UCSD employee, Mia Nikole Bell, admitted to abusing her access as an employee in the human resources department to steal the identities of at least eight students.
According to Bell’s plea agreement, she stole the names, dates of birth, and social security numbers of several UCSD students, then gave the personal information to Weaver in late 2019. He then used these stolen identities, as well as stolen identities from other sources, to open bank accounts and obtain loans. Bell is set to be sentenced in August.
When the pandemic hit in early 2020, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which boosted unemployment benefits for those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, Weaver continued to use the stolen identities to apply for these benefits from the State of California’s Employment Development Department. State officials disbursed at least $202,682 in such payments. He also defrauded the Arizona Department of Economic Security similarly, and obtained $27,230 in fraudulent benefits.
Weaver used the money to make numerous purchases at Nike, Gucci, Burberry, and Louis Vuitton stores. He also paid $52,597 in cash for a BMW 740i.
In addition, Weaver is charged with extortion. When he was under investigation, Weaver sent a text message to an acquaintance demanding money and threatening that they would be “charged with fraud.”
Additionally, Weaver has been charged with two counts of obstruction of justice. He sent a cooperating witness a photograph of the witness’ minor daughter, as well as a text message reading “Lol so dead you don’t even know it yet.” He also left a stuffed animal rat on the car of the same cooperating witness.
In an email to The UCSD Guardian, Associate Director of University Communications Leslie Sepuka reiterated UCSD’s commitment to maintaining the privacy and security of all student data, as well as explained the measures UCSD takes to protect data entrusted to it.
“UC San Diego is strongly committed to maintaining the privacy and security of all data that is entrusted to us, including the personal information of students, consistent with applicable laws and university policies,” Sepuka said. “In addition, all university faculty and staff are required to take annual cybersecurity training and dedicated privacy workshops are available. The university continuously seeks to improve, learning from incidents both here and at other universities.”
Art by Allen Chen for The UCSD Guardian