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Virginia Man Sentenced In Unemployment Fraud, Best Friend Says He Was ‘Forced’ Into Plea Deal

A Virginia man was sentenced on Monday to 27 months in prison for conspiring with others to defraud the government of more than $499,000 and to commit mail fraud, but the suspect’s brother says the case was botched.

According to court documents, Jeremy Short, 26, Norton, Virginia, waived his right to be indicted and pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to defraud the United States and one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud with respect to benefits authorized and paid in connection with a presidentially declared major disaster or emergency.  

The DOJ says Short participated in a conspiracy to commit fraud against the United States in connection with a scheme involving the filing of fraudulent claims for pandemic unemployment benefits.  

According to court documents, Short, and others, conspired to collect personal identification information of more than 35 co-conspirators, including 15 inmates in the custody of the Virginia Department of Corrections, and to file fraudulent claims of pandemic-related unemployment benefits.

Over the course of nine months, the conspiracy filed fraudulent claims for at least 37 individuals, with a total actual loss to the United States of at least $499,000.

On Tuesday, Short’s brother, Johnny Farmer, said the entire case against his best friend was inaccurate.

“We tried multiple times over several months to contact the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) about this matter, we reported it as fraud to the VEC and the IRS on February 16, 2021, when we received the 1099-G form stating that he (Short) had drawn $7,245 in unemployment benefits,” said Farmer.

“I have emailed and called everywhere that I can find for assistance. Legal aid doesn’t handle anything criminal and the lawyers I have found are wanting to charge between $5000 and $10000,” said Farmer.

Short was convicted in the scheme based on unemployment benefit payments totaling just over $7,000., but Farmer said proof of his innocence fell on deaf ears, “When I found the new evidence (emails) that proved his innocence and called the VEC to verify the claim that was paid on, we discovered that the claim was valid and based on the proof we had submitted, and not the fraudulent claim. I sent them to his (Shorts’) lawyer on July 20, 2021, and, he didn’t even bother opening them until I was on the phone with him and Jeremy the day before court August 12.”

“I know there is no way that they could have been submitted as evidence and I would say that the first set of documents that I sent him were not submitted either,” said Farmer. “I even tried to get a copy of my phone’s call log as proof but needed a subpoena to get them from that far back.”

Farmer said that Short’s lawyer did nothing to defend or represent him in court and presented a plea deal within 48 hours of his arrest.

“He said if he did not accept it he could GUARANTEE he was going to get at least 2 years in prison and he hadn’t even seen what, if any evidence against him,” said Farmer.

“He told him that he would give him 24 hours to make his decision and then proceeded to go on vacation the next day without telling Jeremy about it, leaving him to worry himself to death that something had changed or went wrong.”

Whether or not evidence was submitted to the court is unknown, but Farmer is adamant that his brother is innocent of the charges and conviction in this case.

“The only thing that any of them saw was that my brother had a criminal history and forced him into a plea agreement for a conviction. Jeremy never had a chance at a fair defense,” said Farmer. “He was guilty before he ever stepped into the courtroom.”

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