Former USC football player reaches plea deal in COVID benefits fraud case

Former USC football player Abdul-Malik McClain has accepted a plea bargain for his role in allegedly orchestrating a scheme from July 2020 to September 2020 to seek more than $1 million in fraudulent COVID-related unemployment benefits to the California Employment Development Department.

McClain, according to a copy of the plea agreement obtained by The Times, will plead guilty to one count of mail fraud.

McClain, who played at USC from 2018 to 2020, was arrested in December 2021 and charged with 10 counts of mail fraud and two counts of identity theft for allegedly filing fraudulent applications on behalf of USC football players through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which was created during the pandemic to provide assistance to those who did not qualify for standard unemployment benefits.

At the time, McClain pleaded not guilty and was released on $20,000 bail. But a month before his trial, McClain agreed to a plea bargain, with a hearing set for June 17. As part of his plea, McClain must pay restitution and faces significant prison time. The maximum statutory sentence for criminal mail fraud is 20 years, but federal sentencing guidelines suggest between 70 and 87 months in prison.

The original indictment cited 36 fraudulent PUA benefit claims that McClain filed or helped file that were made on behalf of teammates, friends and others whose identities were stolen as part of the scheme. As part of his plea agreement, McClain admitted his role as a “leader or organizer” of the scheme, which used claimants’ names and Social Security numbers to knowingly file PUA claims containing false employment information, all with the intention of obtaining fraudulently. Bank of America debit cards.

Some of these debit cards were sent to addresses to which McClain had direct access. In other cases, McClain received direct payment from those who received EDD’s debit card.

McClain and his co-conspirators, none of whom were identified in the original indictment or plea agreement, sought $1,056,092 in benefits from EDD as part of the scheme, but ultimately received approximately $283 063 $.

McClain left USC in November 2020 after his brother, Munir, was suspended indefinitely from the USC football team in September 2020 amid complaints that USC football players had been approached with a proposed application for EDD benefits. Abdul-Malik McClain has never been suspended.

Munir and Abdul-Malik McClain confirmed to the Times in October 2020 that they had benefited from the PUA program. That fall, several USC football players were approached in their on-campus residence halls about the project. Some have been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury.

At the time, in several interviews with The Times, the McClain family remained resolute that neither brother had done anything wrong.