Former USC player charged with fraud in COVID relief scheme

Abdul-Malik McClain

Abdul-Malik McClain
Photo: AP

USC athletics may want to start getting more creative — come on, how many times can you be associated with mail fraud in three years’ time? Just two years after the athletic department was rocked by the infamous college admissions scandal in which USC administrators were found guilty of accepting bribes to admit unqualified students as recruited athletes, a former Trojans linebacker has been charged with 10 counts of mail fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft.

Abdul-Malik McClain, who now plays for Jackson State, is alleged to have organized a scheme with other Trojan athletes to falsify unemployment claims in order to illegally gain financial benefits from COVID unemployment relief funds during summer 2020. The indictment states that McClain and other football players fraudulently filed for over $900,000 in unemployment benefits — of which at least $227,000 was paid out. Prosecutors are alleging that McClain was also getting a cut of other players’ benefits for orchestrating and helping to file the fake unemployment claims. McClain, 22, has been released on bond. Deadspin made multiple calls to McClain’s attorney, but they were not returned.

A statement from the Department of Justice says that the players’ claims “contained false information about the football players’ supposed prior employment, pandemic-related job loss, and job-seeking efforts in California.” The three dozen claims were filed not only in their own names, but in the names of acquaintances and friends, claiming that they had lost work as tutors or athletic trainers as a result of the pandemic.

If this sounds familiar to you, it may well be. McClain’s brother Munir, who also played for USC and later transferred to Utah, was suspended by USC in 2020 for his participation in this scandal. Normally, unemployment benefits wouldn’t apply to college students working part-time or under self-employment, but the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program had expanded to include that group of workers. Munir McClain filed his claim after sales from his shoe-reselling side business dried up during the pandemic, but said that he was under the impression that was a legitimate claim under the assistance program’s reach.

If Abdul-Malik McClain is found guilty, he could face up to 20 years in prison for each mail fraud charge. There are no other players named on the indictment. His next court appearance is in February.

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