Abdul-Malik McClain, a college football player, is facing federal fraud charges after prosecutors said he led his teammates in a scheme to bilk thousands of dollars in unemployment benefits last year. 

According to the indictment unsealed Monday, investigators believe McClain, 22, conspired with other players at the University of Southern California to receive pandemic assistance for which they did not qualify — even allegedly using stolen identities on the paperwork. 

McClain, who has since transferred to Jackson State University in Mississippi, was charged with 10 counts of mail fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft. He pleaded not guilty, and was released from custody after posting bail, the Justice Department said.

Abdul-Malik McClain, 22, is accused of orchestrating a scheme to get PUA benefits in 2020. He's been charged with fraud.
Abdul-Malik McClain, 22, is accused of orchestrating a scheme to get PUA benefits in 2020. He’s been charged with fraud. Photo credit; Instagram

Feds: McClain Led USC Fraud Ring

In the federal indictment, prosecutors wrote that McClain orchestrated a scheme with other USC players to fraudulently receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits in 2020. Officials said the 22-year-old and others lied about losing work due to Covid-19 and falsely claimed to be actively seeking employment, both of which were required to qualify for the federal funds.

Through the California Employment Development Department (EDD), investigators said McClain and others received thousands of dollars on preloaded Bank of America debit cards sent in the mail. Officials wrote that McClain and others withdrew the money from ATMs and used it for “personal expenses.”

As the alleged ringleader, prosecutors said McClain “sought and obtained a cut” of the benefits claimed by his teammates. 

In addition to filing for PUA under false pretenses, authorities believe the alleged scammers claimed benefits in the names of others — friends, associates, and even strangers whose identities had been stolen. For those claims, prosecutors said McClain and others had the preloaded debit cards shipped to addresses where they could collect the mail. 

In total, the indictment accuses McClain and his teammates of filing at least 36 fraudulent claims to the EDD for benefits totalling $903,688 during the summer of 2020. They received no less than $227,736, prosecutors said. 

Federal investigators said Abdul-Malik McClain obtained thousands in pandemic unemployment through fraud.
Federal investigators said Abdul Malik McClain obtained thousands in pandemic unemployment through fraud and stolen identities. Photo credit: Instagram

Abdul-Malik McClain Facing Prison Time

McClain was taken into federal custody and released on $20,000 bond on or before Monday. At his arraignment that day, a judge set his trial date for Feb. 15. The 22-year-old has entered a not guilty plea, according to the Justice Department.

Each of the 10 mail fraud counts carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, federal authorities said. The identity theft charges carry mandatory, two-year sentences to be served consecutively to any sentence given for the fraud counts. 

Though the indictment claims that McClain led a scam involving several football teammates, the DoJ’s statement doesn’t name any of his alleged co-conspirators. It’s not clear if any other USC Trojans are expected to face criminal charges. 

In October 2020, Abdul-Malik’s brother Munir McClain was reportedly suspended from USC for his role in the alleged fraud. Munir told the Los Angeles Times that he had filed for PUA while he was on the team, but said his claims were legitimate because he had lost out on work as a result of the pandemic. 

If convicted of fraud, Abdul-Malik McClain could spend decades in a federal prison.
If convicted of fraud, Abdul-Malik McClain could spend decades in a federal prison. Photo credit: Instagram

Feds Take Aim at Pandemic Scams

McClain’s arrest is the latest win for the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force, a federal agency set up in May to prosecute pandemic-related scams. 

Just last week, federal authorities charged speed skater and Olympic medalist Allison Baver with nine counts of fraud and one count of money laundering. Prosecutors said the 41-year-old gave false statements in order to receive $10 million under the Paycheck Protection Program, a pandemic-era federal plan to help small businesses cover payroll expenses. 

Earlier this month, a N.J. man was sentenced to two years in prison, after authorities said he created an entirely fake business with made-up employees to bilk relief money for small business owners.