Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s administration has fired 61 public employees for collecting unemployment benefits while working for the city, the Washington Post reports.
“The city’s Department of Employment Services [DOES], which oversees the jobless-compensation program, said in February that dozens of current and former city workers had received the fraudulent payments,” the Post report adds.
The scam, which was started in 2009, issued fraudulent checks ranging from a couple hundred to thousands of dollars per employee. All told, estimates put the total amount scammed at about $800,000. So far, Gray's administration has taken action against 92 employees (including the aforementioned 61 employees who have been let go).
“We’re not going to tolerate this kind of activity in the government,” said Pedro Ribeiro, Gray’s spokesman. “The matter’s been turned over to the Office of the Attorney General, which will use civil litigation to recoup the money,” he said, adding that Attorney General Irv Nathan “is planning to use the full extent of his authority.”
DOES Director Lisa Mallory said that since the February suspensions, the agency had uncovered overpayments to more current employees, the Post reports.
“We found another batch of 100,” she said in an interview Tuesday.
The Office of the Inspector General, which has collected guilty pleas in eight similar investigations since December 2010, has joined with the Attorney General’s office to conduct the investigation, the Post reports.
“City officials have declined to list names, job titles or departments of those who received the payments, citing personnel laws,” the Post’s Nikita Stewart writes.
“But Nathan has said many of the workers were in the Office of the State Superintendent of Education and described them as drivers,” she adds.
Officials expect the number of employees involved in the scam to grow. That is, they expect more layoffs. However, two employees managed to get away with being handed suspensions while another was allowed to return to work after paying back the scammed cash.
The justification for handing out suspensions (i.e. a slap on the wrist) for what would seem like a pretty big deal?
“[T]he amount [scammed] was significantly low or it was an oversight,” Ribeiro said.
In order to figure out how deep the corruption runs, DOES is conducting an audit of payments distributed since 2009.
“With the help of funding from the U.S. Department of Labor, the city agency said it has instituted a more comprehensive cross-checking system that compares city payroll lists, a national database of new hires and unemployment recipients,” Stewart writes.
“We are not going to stand for any abuse in any of these programs,” Mallory said.