Jackson State Football Player Arrested On Charges Of COVID-19 Unemployment Fraud

Image Credit: Twitter @cylawson8 screen shot

Since the Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders era has begun at Jackson State University football, the program has been scandal-free.

However, recently a JSU player got caught up in an epic incident with significant criminal implications.

On Monday, JSU football player Abdul-Malik McClain was arrested in Los Angeles after indicting on fraud charges. The charge was related to defrauding COVID-19 unemployment money.

Surrendering To The Authorities

McClain surrendered to federal law enforcement and has already been arraigned in U.S. District Court. McClain pleaded not guilty.

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The government contends McClain is the ringleader of a scheme that raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars in unemployment payments.

However, McClain was released on a $20,000 bond and ordered to stand trial on Feb. 15.

Subsequently, Jackson State has removed McClain’s bio page from the JSU athletics website.

Who Is Abdul-Malik McClain?

McClain was a transfer student to Jackson State in December 2020 and a former four-star recruit. He appeared in one game for Jackson State this season, recording three tackles against Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 18.

The DOJ has charged McClain with ten counts of mail fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft in a scheme that the government claims he orchestrated in 2020 while he was a member of the University of Southern California football team.

Now McClain faces a mail fraud count that carries a maximum 20-year federal prison sentence. In addition, aggravated identity theft counts have a two-year minimum.

Charges Mounting Up

However, the accusations against McClain are deep. He is charged with causing “at least three dozen” fraudulent applications to be filed with the California Employment Development Department during the summer of 2020, a scheme DOJ says involved other football players.

According to the news release, McClain allegedly filed fraudulent applications seeking at least $903,688 in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits.

His payout was at least $227,736, the feds claim.

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Fraudulent Claims

“While a member of his university’s football team, McClain organized and assisted a group of other football players in filing fraudulent claims for unemployment benefits, including under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program established by Congress in response to the pandemic’s economic fallout,” the release states.

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

Things escalated when on Dec. 16 when a federal grand jury returned an indictment against McClain. The indictment was unsealed Monday afternoon.

The Ring Leader

According to the news release, McClain orchestrated a ring of other claimants who “filed applications in their own names, in the names of other friends and associates, and in the names of identity theft victims.”

According to the indictment, the claims falsely stated the claimants were self-employed workers, including athletics trainers and tutors, who had lost work in California because of the pandemic.

As a result, the fraudulent claims led to the California Employment Development Department authorizing Bank of America to mail debit cards. According to the news release, the fraudulent cards went to the claimants’ respective names.

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“Those debit cards were loaded with at least hundreds of dollars, and sometimes thousands of dollars, in unemployment benefits, which the recipients used to make cash withdrawals at ATMs and to fund personal expenses,” according to the news release.

“In some cases, McClain sought and obtained a cut for helping others file fraudulent UI applications.”

As the JSU football train continues to roll, McClain is an isolated problem that the trendsetting school does not need.


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Rhett Butler is a Boxing Writer Association of America Journalist, Play-By-Play Commentator, Combat Sports Insider, and Former Mixed Martial Arts and Boxing Promoter. The New York City native honed his skills at various news outlets including but not limited to: TIME Magazine, Money Magazine, CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, and more. Rhett hosts the PRITTY Left Hook podcast, a polarizing combat sports insider's take featuring the world's biggest names.