Unemployment assistance fraud trial begins

CHAMBERS: George Chambers Jr. sits inside the courtroom on Thursday during day one of his criminal trial. Nick Delgado/The Guam Daily Post

Trial for a man accused of falsifying records as part of his claim submission for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance began Thursday in the Superior Court of Guam.

George Chambers Jr., 50, is facing two counts of forgery as a third-degree felony, tampering with public records as a third-degree felony, two counts of unsworn falsification of record as a misdemeanor and one charge of unsworn falsification of record as a misdemeanor.

Assistant Attorney General Dannis Le gave a brief opening statement to the jury.

"I'm not going to tell you what I think you should be looking for or what I think is important in terms of the evidence that is going to be presented to you. ... You are going to hear about a little more than a handful of witnesses. They are going to talk to you about their jobs and what they do," said Le. "I'm essentially just going to ask you for your attention, which you've all promised to keep an open mind. I am going to emphasize that you pay attention to the witnesses before you."

Le told the jury members to set aside thinking about the charges against Chambers until after they hear the testimony from the government witnesses.

"At the very end, after having to listen to everything, I am going to ask you talk to each other about what you saw and heard," he said.

Defense attorney William Bischoff told the court he would reserve making an opening statement during the first day of trial.

The government called two witnesses from the Guam Department of Labor, who testified about the PUA program and the allegedly fraudulent claim filed by the defendant.

"After this potential fraud issue was discovered, we had felt that because the government document was altered for the purposes of receiving federal benefits being administered by GDOL ... it was a case that needed to be referred for being handled as a criminal case," said Greg Massey, administrator of Alien Labor Processing and Certification Division for Guam DOL, who alerted the attorney general's office. "There was PUA fraud going on."

"So you thought it was serious?" asked Le.

"Yes," Massey said.

"You and your employees performed some investigation and that's what led to the referral?" Le asked.

"Correct," Massey said. "We thought that it was a little bit different than typical misrepresentation."

Le asked, "Do you recall how this issue first came about?"

"The investigation started from Mr. Chambers calling into our director's office to complain why he hadn't gotten his PUA benefits yet, and typically what happens is when a call comes in, then a manager gets it and we assign a staff to assist the claimant. In this particular case, he brought attention to his claim. So, when we reviewed it that's when we started to find documents that appeared to be not legitimate," Massey said.

He said that's when a staff member assigned to follow up found deficiencies with Chambers' claim.

The PUA program assists thousands of individuals whose jobs have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The trial is ongoing before Judge Vernon Perez.

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