NEW ORLEANS - Twenty-four people have been arrested so far in the New Orleans area since the Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC) and Attorney General’s (AG’s) Office began a crackdown on unemployment insurance fraud in April.
The total amount alleged to have been defrauded from the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund by those arrested as part of “Operation Spring Cleaning” stands at $237,268, according to the LWC. Additional arrests are pending.
The most recent arrests, along with the total amount of fraudulent unemployment benefits received:
- Selita Harris, 6540 Harbourview Drive, New Orleans, $11,270
- Chelbi Brickley, 8200 Palmetto St., Apt. 232, New Orleans,$9,223
- Keith Petit, 3118 Marais St. S., New Orleans, $12,716
- Sharon S. Rhodes, 2919 Euterpe St. S., New Orleans, $7,949
- Arrianne L. Anderson, 1404 Tourn St., New Orleans, $19,143
- Allen F. Green, 1310 Spain St., New Orleans, $5,843
- Kaneshia D. Martin, 5517 St. Roch Ave., New Orleans, $11,220
- Grayland A. Mitchell, 730 Dupre St., New Orleans, $7,406
- Trioant Nelson, 501 Salvadore Road, Kenner, $8,828
- Angela M. Nunnery, 2137 Pasadena Ave., Apt D, Metairie, $6,773
- Ayanna M. Williams, 3124 Lemon St. Apt. C, Metairie, $6,499
- Jonathan Pursell, 3700 Haring Road, Metairie, $6,180
- Dionnandrea Davis, 901 Gretna Blvd. Apt. B1-13, Gretna, $8,475
- Cornell Griffin, 9105 South Chante Court, Westwego, $8,065
The primary method of fraud occurs when people claim unemployment benefits while working but not reporting their earnings. Those arrested have been booked with felony theft over $1,500, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison with or without hard labor and a maximum fine of $3,000, and insurance fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison with or without hard labor and/or a maximum fine $5,000. In both cases, restitution will have to be paid.
“These are serious crimes. Unemployment benefits are paid for by businesses, and claiming benefits that are not legitimate is stealing, pure and simple," said Curt Eysink, LWC Executive Director.
The crackdown began in the greater New Orleans area but is a statewide initiative.
The arrests are part of the LWC’s efforts to collect unemployment overpayments. Once an overpayment is detected, the LWC contacts the recipient to arrange restitution. Overpayments made as a result of fraud also result in a denial of unemployment benefits for one year in addition to any potential criminal penalties. State income tax refunds are garnished until the overpayment is repaid, and the LWC also is working with the IRS to institute a system that targets federal income tax refunds.
Unemployment insurance claimants are responsible for the accuracy of all of their answers when filing a claim. Each week while someone is receiving benefits, they must attest that they did not work during the previous week, or, if they did work, they must report their earnings, even if they have not yet received a paycheck. Cash wages, part-time job wages, temporary job wages, and self employment wages also must be reported, and for the week in which they were earned, even if payment has not been received.
Claimants who have committed fraud by theft of unemployment benefits may contact the LWC Overpayment Department (1-866-783-5567) to establish a repayment plan. Once a plan is established, payments must be made on time. Repayment of benefits prior to prosecution may weigh in the claimants' favor. Each case will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis by the AG’s Office and the LWC.
In addition to the fraud detection and prosecution measures, the LWC also has ramped up fraud prevention efforts, including cross-checking unemployment claimant information against the National Directory of New Hires. Federal and state law requires employers to report newly hired and re-hired employees in Louisiana to the Louisiana Directory of New Hires, and that data feeds into a national directory. Employers can report their hires by logging on to http://newhire-reporting.com/LA-Newhire/default.aspx. Employers also are encouraged to respond when they receive a request from the LWC to verify wages when someone has been identified through the NDNH cross match.
Employers also should ensure that the wage records they submit quarterly are complete and accurate, as they also enable better fraud detection. Failure to do so may result in penalties against employers.
To report suspected unemployment fraud, go to the LWC website, www.laworks.net, click Unemployment Insurance in the upper right corner, then click Report Fraud.
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