A 44-year-old Lebanon man was sentenced to 10 months of prison time after pleading guilty to wire fraud for taking $37,555 of unemployment benefits while employed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Luis Mercado was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Sylvia H. Rambo after pleading guilty to a single count of wire fraud for claiming Pandemic Unemployment Assistance while being employed by the Department of Agriculture as a poultry inspector.

Mercado began claiming the benefits in August 2020 and received $37,555 in total. In addition to the prison time, Mercado must also pay back that amount in restitution.

The Department of Justice said that Mercado reaffirmed weekly during this time that he was unemployed due to the pandemic despite holding the position with the Department of Agriculture.

The federal case was investigated by the Department of Agriculture’s inspector general and the Department of Labor’s inspector general. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul J. Miovas Jr.

“Luis Mercado fraudulently applied for and received Pennsylvania Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits,” said Syreeta Scott, Special Agent-in-Charge, Philadelphia Region, U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, in a press release.

“Mercado submitted weekly certifications where he falsely certified that he was unemployed due to COVID-19 while he was actively employed as a food inspector by the United States Department of Agriculture.”

Mercado may be facing additional prison time for unrelated charges. In 2020, Mercado had been charged with aggravated assault after threatening to stab two individuals in Lebanon while brandishing a knife. Mercado failed to complete an Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition agreement negotiated in conjunction with those charges and a pre-trial conference to discuss a plea arrangement for those charges is currently scheduled for June 1 in front of Lebanon County Judge Bradford Charles.

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