Woman Pleads Guilty in Unemployment Insurance Fraud Scheme Involving Bogus Movie Production Companies

Targeted Senior Citizens

LOS ANGELES – California Employment Development Department (EDD)  investigators assisted in an investigation that led to an Antelope Valley woman pleadingguilty to her role in an unemployment insurance scheme to bilk EDD out of nearly $300,000.

On October 14, 2015, Dena Peterman, aka Dena Buttram, 32, of Littlerock, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud pursuant to a plea agreement.  Peterman used social security numbers stolen from elderly victims in California and Oregon to collect unemployment.

According to the plea agreement and other court documents, over the course of two years, Peterman and her co-conspirators targeted senior citizens as part of the scam, obtaining social security numbers and other personal data from them by telling themthey had an opportunity to be cast in remakes of popular movies.

"This is a blatant case of stealing from all of us and taking advantage of the elderly," said California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA) Foundation Chairman Kenny Ehrman.  "It's this type of fraud that continues to motivate the CSLEA Foundation to invest time and energy in talking to our seniors about schemes,  scams and ripoffs."

Peterman and her co-conspirators created bogus companies with names such as Nine Maids Movie Production, Western Film Animation and High Desert Productions. Using the stolen personal information, a co-conspirator filed fictitious wage reports with the EDD and then fraudulently sought unemployment insurance benefits for the people who supposedly worked for the movie companies. The EDD subsequently provided unemployment insurance benefits in the names of these individuals through debit cards that were mailed to addresses that Peterman or her co-conspirators controlled.

As a result of this scheme, Peterman and her co-conspirators sought more than $290,000 in unemployment insurance benefits.   The EDD suffered losses of approximately $221,612.

Peterman is scheduled to be sentenced January 6, 2016.  She faces a statutory maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. 

This case is the result of a joint investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor - Office of Inspector General and the California Employment Development Department.