Tens of thousands of dollars in unemployment benefits were suspected to be stolen by nearly 300 State employees during the pandemic.
More than 280 State employees applied for and collected the benefits identified by a new Internal State investigation, even though they are still employed by the state of Georgia.
Justin Gray, a Channel 2 Consumer Investigator reported on the audit on Wednesday morning and was at the headquarters of the Georgia Department of Labor on Wednesday night.
State Inspector General, Scott McAfee of Georgia, warned Georgia Governor Brian Kemp in a letter that there are at least 280 State employees who may have committed unemployment fraud and are still on the taxpayer’s payroll and don’t have disciplinary actions taken regarding that matter.
McAfee said in the letter that payment averaged $23,700 per employee and totaled more than $6.7 million.
Bruce Thompson, the State’s recently elected said that the information in the audit is shameful. He said “The fact that we have State employees committing fraud acts while we have other people who can’t get payment due to them, that’s a big problem.
So far, McAfee interviewed two dozen full-time State employees who collected unemployment, and nearly all of them have since been terminated, including a woman hired from a different State agency as a Department of Labor claims manager.
Thompson added if they willfully do that, they should prosecute them to the fullest, especially if they are a State employee.
In a footnote, the Inspector General also said that the DOL and its leadership turn down efforts to cooperate with the investigation.
Gray talked to the Commissioner of DOL Mark Butler, who said that federal and state laws stop him from giving some data to the Inspector general office.
Butler said in a statement they wanted a lot of personal information about the state employees that they could not legally hand over to them especially not based upon a fishing expedition, and it was not legally permissible.
The Federal Department of Labor stepped in and did provide the information for the audit, according to the IG’s letter.
Gray has been flooded with outraged Georgian messages who have struggled unsuccessfully to collect the unemployment they were entitled to since Channel 2 Action News first reported the story.
McAfee says there’s no way his office has the resources to individually investigate each of the 250 remaining employees that are suspended for fraud.
Those who have been identified have been turned in to the Attorney general for prosecution.
The Inspector General is now asking the General Assembly to extend the Statute of limitation for pandemic fraud.