Ex-USC linebacker to plead guilty in $1M COVID benefits scheme, other players allegedly involved

Former USC linebacker Abdul-Malik McClain has agreed to plead guilty next week to federal charges alleging he orchestrated a scheme that fraudulently sought more than $1 million in COVID-related unemployment benefits, according to court papers obtained today.

McClain, 24, who played high school football for JSerra in Orange County, will enter his plea Monday in downtown Los Angeles to one count of felony mail fraud, his plea agreement filed last week states.

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McClain, who played at USC from 2018-20 and then transferred to Jackson State, was charged three years ago with multiple counts of mail fraud and aggravated identity theft.

Prosecutors allege McClain, who was playing for USC during the scheme in 2020, organized and assisted a group of other players in filing fraudulent claims for unemployment benefits, including under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program established by Congress in response to the pandemic’s economic fallout.

The indictment alleges that the claims contained bogus information about the football players’ supposed prior employment, pandemic-related job loss, and job-seeking efforts in California.

Federal prosecutors contend that false statements in applications filed with the state’s unemployment insurance benefits program led the California Employment Development Department to authorize Bank of America to mail debit cards to the football players.

Those debit cards were loaded with at hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars in unemployment benefits, which the recipients used to make cash withdrawals at automated teller machines and to fund personal expenses, prosecutors said.

In some cases, McClain sought and obtained a cut for helping others file fraudulent applications, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

McClain and others also allegedly filed applications in their own names, in the names of other friends and associates, and in the names of identity theft victims.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office contends McClain caused at least three dozen fraudulent applications to be filed with EDD during the summer of 2020. According to the indictment, those fraudulent applications sought over $1 million in benefits and led the EDD to pay out at least $227,736.

“When the university learned of this matter in September 2020, we notified law enforcement and have been fully cooperating with authorities,” USC said when McClain was charged in 2021. “We are unable to provide additional information because this is a pending criminal matter.”

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