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Two sentenced to prison for collecting benefits for inmates

Two people convicted of collecting unemployment benefits for incarcerated gang members -- including a man who ended up behind bars after a detective recognized the tattoo of an unsolved murder scene emblazoned on his chest -- will now serve prison time themselves.

Juan Garcia, 48, and Sandra Jaimez, 46, were sentenced Tuesday by Norwalk Superior Court Judge Robert Higa to five years in prison. They were also ordered to return the more than $20,000 they bilked from the state's Employment Development Department, according to a statement released by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

A second woman, Cynthia Limas, pleaded guilty to her role in the scheme last year.

Between October 2008 and August 2010, the defendants cashed unemployment checks for inmate Anthony Garcia, the son of Juan Garcia, and submitted change of address forms in his name, officials said.

In a statement released last year after prosecutors filed charges against Juan Garcia and the two women, then-Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley called the case an example of money going to people “who don’t deserve these benefits.”

“It’s no wonder the state is facing such financial difficulties,” Cooley said.

The older Garcia and Jaimez each pleaded guilty to making false unemployment insurance claims, prosecutors said. Juan Garcia also pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree burglary and Jaimez to one count of possession for sale of methamphetamine and one count of felony child abuse.

The defendants kept some of the money for themselves; the rest went to the younger Garcia and other incarcerated gang members, the district attorney's office said.

The case has its roots in something an L.A. County Sheriff's Department homicide detective noticed on a lucky day in 2008.

As he leafed through a stack of photos, one mug shot caught his attention. He paused to stare at the photo of Anthony Garcia, who had been picked up on a minor offense. Soon it clicked: the detailed tattoo on the younger Garcia’s chest alluded to the unsolved murder of John Juarez at a liquor store a few years earlier.

Anthony Garcia eventually confessed to the murder and is serving a 65-years-to-life sentence.

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-- Marisa Gerber

 
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