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State employees stole over $6.7 million in unemployment benefits, Georgia audit alleges

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Georgia Labor Commissioner-Elect Bruce Thompson (Image Source WSB-TV video screenshot)

A recent Georgia audit revealed that nearly 300 full-time state employees may have fraudulently collected unemployment benefits in 2020 and 2021.

WSB-TV Investigator Justin Gray broke the story on Wednesday morning after Georgia inspector general Scott McAfee sent a letter to Governor Brian Kemp (R), warning that an internal investigation uncovered that at least 280 state employees were suspected of stealing more than $6.7 million in unemployment benefits.

The employees are accused of applying for and collecting benefits while still employed by the state of Georgia.

McAfee’s letter claimed that the investigation only included full-time employees still employed with the state. He noted that the reported number of alleged fraud cases was a “conservative estimate,” considering the investigation did not include part-time employees, those no longer employed by the state, or those who received less than $1,000 in unemployment benefits.

“These payments averaged $24,700 per employee and totaled over $6.7 million. And this is a conservative estimate,” the letter stated.

According to McAfee, the Office of the State Inspector General interviewed approximately 24 full-time state workers accused of fraudulently applying for unemployment benefits. As a result, “nearly all” were fired.

One of those employees included a Georgia Department of Labor unemployment insurance claims examiner who allegedly collected $31,220 in benefits. The letter stated that the employee repeatedly updated a fraudulent unemployment insurance account while working full-time with the GDOL.

The cases have been turned over to the Office of the Attorney General’s Prosecution Division.

“It’s shameful, in my opinion,” Georgia Labor Commissioner-Elect Bruce Thompson told WSB-TV. “The fact that we have state employees committing fraudulent acts while we have other people who can’t get payments due to them, that’s a big problem.”

“If you willfully do that, we should prosecute to the fullest, especially if you are a state employee,” Thompson added.

According to the inspector general, the Department of Labor refused to cooperate with the IG’s requests for information.

As a result of the alleged hindered investigation, McAfee’s letter requested that the General Assembly pass legislation allowing the Office of the State Inspector General administrative subpoena authority.

DOL Commissioner Mark Butler denied the accusation made against his department.

“They wanted a lot of personal information about state employees that we could not legally hand over to them, especially not based upon a fishing expedition,” Butler told WSB-TV. “It was not legally permissible.”

McAfee suggested to Kemp that the state extend the statute of limitations for prosecuting pandemic-related fraud to provide adequate time to investigate the remaining cases. To crack down on future theft, the IG also recommended quarterly checks to ensure state employees have not submitted fraudulent applications.

Nearly 300 Georgia state employees collected unemployment on the job, audit claimsyoutu.be

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