ATLANTA – About 300 government workers have been caught stealing tens of thousands of dollars in unemployment benefits during the pandemic.
A new internal investigation identifies more than 280 government employees who applied for and collected benefits.
Channel 2 Consumer Researcher Justin Gray first reported the audit Wednesday morning on WSBTV.com and was at the Georgia Department of Labor headquarters Wednesday night.
Georgia’s Inspector General, Scott McAfee, warned Georgia Governor Brian Kemp in an explosive letter that there are at least 250 potential fraudulent unemployed state employees who are still on the tax payer list and have not been reprimanded.
“Those payments averaged $23,700 per employee and totaled more than $6.7 million,” McAfee said in the letter.
Bruce Thompson is the state’s newly elected Labor Commissioner. He said the information in the audit was embarrassing.
“The fact that we have government employees committing fraud while we have other people not getting paid for them, that’s a big problem,” said Thompson.
McAfee said that so far, he has interviewed a dozen full-time government workers who are collecting unemployment. Almost all have been terminated, including a woman who was employed by another government agency as a claims manager for the Department of Labor. Hawkins said in the letter that he continued to update his fraudulent unemployment account while working for the Department of Labor.
“If you’re doing it on purpose, we should fully prosecute, especially if you’re a public servant,” Thompson said.
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The Inspector General also said in a footnote that the Department of Labor and its leaders are not opposed to efforts to cooperate with the investigation.
Gray spoke with DOL Commissioner Mark Butler, who said federal and state law prevented him from sharing data with the Inspector General’s office.
“They wanted a lot of personal information about government employees that we could legally provide, especially not based on fishing trips,” Butler said. “It was not legally allowed.”
According to the IG’s letter, the Federal Department of Labor intervened and provided the audit information.
Since then Channel 2 Action News first broke the story on Wednesday morning, Gray has been flooded with messages from angry Georgians who have struggled to collect the unemployment they were entitled to, while other government workers have been accused twice.
The IG is asking the United Nations General Assembly to extend the anti-fraud statute. McAfee said there was no way his office had the resources to investigate each of the remaining 250 employees suspected of fraud.
Dozens have already been identified and handed over to the attorney general for prosecution.
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