Six people connected to a suspected fraud ring in Webster Parish are the latest people arrested in the Louisiana Workforce Commission’s statewide crackdown on unemployment insurance fraud.
The six arrested were all employees of Continental Structural Plastics in Sarepta in northwest Louisiana. They are accused of claiming unemployment insurance benefits while they were working, but failing to report their earnings.
Warrants for 17 other suspects in the Sarepta fraud ring are pending. The Louisiana Attorney General’s Office has entered them in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database.
Those arrested and the amount of their suspected fraud are:
- Mary A. Epps, P.O. Box 339, Cullen, La., $10,583
- Sharonda Oliver, 200 Sherrywood Lane, Apt. 15, Springhill, La., $10,957
- Laquetta Richardson, P.O. Box 317, Cullen, $33,486
- Kevin Robinson, 700 Coyle St., Springhill, $6,214
- Ronnie Scott, 302 South Park Drive, Springhill, $25,488
- Jerry Sumlin, P.O. Box 710, Cullen, $27,227
These arrests bring the total number of people arrested to 58 since the LWC began its fraud crackdown in April. The 58 arrests account for a total of $573,082 defrauded from the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund.
“The fact that all of those arrested or wanted in the Sarepta fraud ring were working at the same company underscores the need for employers to be active participants in decisions about unemployment claims filed against them. Employers have the means available to them to help us stop this kind of fraud almost immediately,” LWC Executive Director Curt Eysink said.
There are three easy steps employers should take to safeguard themselves against bogus unemployment claims:
1) Report New Hires/Rehires: Report any new hire – and rehire – online to the State Directory of New Hires .
LWC checks claims against that directory weekly to identify possible fraud. If a match is generated, employers should respond quickly to requests for additional information.
2) File Form 77/Separation Notice: An employer should file a Form 77/Separation Notice with the LWC within 72 hours of an employee separates from service stating the reason for leaving. Employers can file online at www.laworks.net.
With the separation information in hand, LWC can prevent any individual who does not qualify from receiving benefits.
3) Review Quarterly Statement: Employers receive a statement each quarter of their unemployment charges. By reviewing this statement and alerting LWC of any employee who should not be receiving benefits, employers can help stop unlawful claims.
Those receiving unemployment benefits also have a responsibility to report their earnings correctly when they file a claim, the LWC said. People filing for unemployment are required to accurately disclose all earned income. This means any form of employment, regardless of whether they have received a paycheck yet. Any income, whether it is from full-time employment, part-time work or odd jobs, counts as earnings.
If claimants do not properly disclose earnings, intentionally or unintentionally, they are committing fraud. Unemployment insurance fraud can be charged as a felony theft, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison with or without hard labor and a maximum fine of $3,000, and/or insurance fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison with or without hard labor and/or a maximum fine $5,000. Repayment of funds is also required.
“People who commit this kind of fraud should know that we will discover their crime and we will pursue them,” Eysink said. “We keep developing new and faster ways to detect fraud and our partnership with the attorney general is landing the crooks in handcuffs.”
LWC’s multi-pronged approach to preventing, detecting and prosecuting fraud includes:
- Technology that analyzes information such as wage and tax filings, unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation claims and new hire listings.
- Sharing information with the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services, Louisiana Department of Revenue, Secretary of State’s office, Department of Corrections and Office of Motor Vehicles.
- Using sophisticated computer analysis to identify potential fraud that would otherwise be very difficult to detect.
Claimants who are unsure how to report earnings, need assistance with reporting, or want to establish a repayment plan for overpayment of unemployment benefits should contact the Unemployment Insurance Claim Center at 1-866-783-5567. Once a repayment 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.
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