A Maplewood woman has been sentenced to 1½ years in prison for stealing $1.25 million in COVID-19 relief money from government agencies.

The sentencing Wednesday of Takara Hughes, 36, in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis came after she pleaded guilty to wire fraud for submitting phony claims for unemployment benefits to state agencies in Minnesota and elsewhere.

Along with her prison time, Hughes' sentence includes three years of supervision after her release and an order to pay back everything she stole from agencies that included the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development and the California Employment Development Department.

Ahead of sentencing, Hughes' defense argued for her to receive a prison term of a year and a day, saying that both of her parents' lives of crime made her childhood especially difficult.

But prosecutors pushed for 2¾ years in prison, noting in a filing with the court that she "lied and defrauded repeatedly and audaciously" as part of her scheme.

In January 2022, federal agents searched her home and found "substantial evidence of her scheme, including on her devices and her cell phone," the filing continued.

One text on her phone included in the prosecution filing referenced submitting false claim applications and included the message, "It's so easy. I can walk him thru."

Through her attorney, a co-defendant, 39-year-old Tequisha Solomon, of Las Vegas, has pleaded guilty to wire fraud.

Federal sentencing guidelines call for Solomon, whose thefts were nearly four times what Hughes stole, to serve anywhere from seven to 8¾ years in prison. However, federal judges have full discretion when sentencing defendants and are not bound by the guidelines calculation. Her sentencing has yet to be scheduled.

According to prosecutors, while Solomon and Hughes lived in Nevada or Minnesota, they falsely claimed they resided in Southern California, where they worked as hairstylists, and received at least $37,000 and $46,000, respectively, in state unemployment benefits.

Hughes and Solomon, who has lived in South St. Paul and Woodbury, also fraudulently applied for economic injury disaster and federal Paycheck Protection Program small-business loans by falsely claiming they owned cleaning-service businesses. They also submitted fraudulent claims on behalf of other people and charged them a fee to do so.

Solomon reportedly cost the federal government and several state agencies at least $4.7 million for alleged false claims. Hughes reportedly was paid $1.25 million for herself and others.