Jackson State linebacker Abdul-Malik McClain, who formerly played for USC, pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of mail fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft in a U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Monday, according to the Los Angeles Times' Ryan Kartje.
According to the indictment, McClain led a scheme with several other college football players to fraudulently claim COVID-19 relief benefits in 2020.
The Dec. 16 indictment says around 36 claims were made in total requesting $900,000 by McClain and his "co-schemers," though only $227,736 was paid out via Bank of America debit cards issued by the California Employment Development Department.
The other players involved in the scheme have not yet been announced or arrested, and it is unclear how many players took part, though McClain's brother Munir McClain was suspended by USC in September 2020 amid a federal probe into EDD fraud. He was not mentioned in the indictment, however.
Abdul-Malik McClain, 22, was at USC at the time of the alleged fraud scheme, though he transferred to Jackson State in November 2020. He was arrested and released on $20,000 bond Monday, with a trial set for Feb. 15.
He is facing up to 20 years in federal prison per each count of mail fraud and a two-year minimum sentence if convicted of either count of aggravated identity theft. The indictment suggests that McClain was the ringleader of the operation.
"According to the indictment, 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," a Department of Justice news release read. "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."
USC spokeswoman Laura Bartlett released a written statement Monday.
"When the university learned of this matter in September 2020, we notified law enforcement and have been fully cooperating with authorities," it read. "We are unable to provide additional information because this is a pending criminal matter."
A Jackson State spokesperson declined comment, per the Mississippi Clarion Ledger's Khari Thompson, who noted McClain's bio had been removed from the school's athletics website.