California mom pleads guilty to stimulus check scam with Death Row son

A Modesto mother faces close to 20 years behind bars after pleading guilty to conspiring with her son, who is on Death Row at San Quentin, to file fraudulent stimulus checks.

Sheila Denise Dunlap admitted on Friday that she and her son obtained the personal information of more than 9,000 people to apply for stimulus checks in 2020.

Investigators say she used her own bank account information to get more than $145,000 in these payments.

In May, the US Department of Justice charged the 51-year-old woman with a wire fraud conspiracy after they said she filed fraudulent applications for Economic Impact Payment payments, commonly known as stimulus checks.  

The EIP program was part of the CARES Act, a federal relief bill signed to address the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

MORE: California man charged with stealing $1M in COVID benefits

Dunlap admitted in her plea agreement that her son, identified only by the initials D.W., sent her the personal information of his fellow prisoners along with information of others whom they suspected might qualify as non-filers of 2018 or 2019 income tax returns.

 Dunlap admitted she used this personal information to file multiple fraudulent claims through the Internal Revenue Service’s online EIP Portal.  In each of the applications, Dunlap listed her own Bank of America account to receive the payments, prosecutors said.

In the plea agreement, Dunlap acknowledged that her son advised her to file the fraudulent claims by first using information of the youngest adults listed.  

Both D.W. and Dunlap assessed that these younger, college-aged individuals probably lacked income sufficient to trigger the filing of a 2018 or 2019 tax return and were accordingly likely non-filers eligible for the stimulus checks. 

Dunlap admitted that in May and June 2020 she used the personal information of these people – which included their names and Social Security numbers – to electronically filed 121 stimulus check claims. 

Dunlap admitted that each claim contained false statements and directed payment to her bank account.  In total, Dunlap filed claims for $145,200 in stimulus check payments. 

Prosecutors said mother and son coordinated the scheme using phone calls and text messages.

The first five payments were electronically deposited into Dunlap's bank account on March 28, one day after the CARES Act was signed into law by former President Donald Trump. 

Stimulus checks issued amid the COVID-19 pandemic, including the CARES Act checks and the $600 and $1,400 payments issued this year, have been fertile grounds for potential fraud and scams.

Dunlap is scheduled for her sentencing hearing before United States District Judge Susan Illston on June 24, 2022.  She remains out of custody.