As many as 130 current and former employees of the District of Columbia have been caught up in a fraud investigation.
The nearly year-long probe looked into suspected abuse of unemployment insurance benefits paid out by the D.C. government.
Investigators found that about 130 people drew on unemployment benefits while actually still holding jobs with the District, including D.C. Council staffers (at least one who worked for Council Chair Kwame Brown), employees of the Department of Transportation and the school system, and one who works in the Department of Employment Services, News4's Pat Collins reported. Those 90 people suspected who are currently working for the District have been placed on administrative leave, pending the results of the investigation.
“I think it’s pretty disturbing that people, particularly in certain positions like people in education, public school or the Office of State Superintendent of Education, would not have good enough sense not to be double-dipping in this way and taking,” Attorney General Irv Nathan said. “This could be, in some cases, fraud, and that’s quite inappropriate.”
About $840,000 was taken in about three years, Collins reported.
“We have taken many steps to improve the quality and integrity of the unemployment-insurance program,” said Department of Employment Services Director Lisa Mallory. “While more reform is still underway, many of our recent efforts are focused on detecting, recovering and deterring improper payments.”
The review of the District's unemployment benefit policy was set in motion by Mallory shortly after she was appointed last year. The Office of the Inspector General, the attorney general and the Department of Human Resources all worked together with the DOES in the investigation.
Nathan said his office would reclaim unemployment insurance money paid out improperly. “It is unconscionable for anyone – and particularly District of Columbia employees, who should have high ethical standards – to be fraudulently collecting unemployment insurance to which they are not entitled,” Nathan said.
The Department of Employment Services turned the names over to the Attorney General's Office, which will decide which cases will be submitted to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
“We are not going to tolerate this, and we are going to get the money back, call people out and, in appropriate cases, send it for criminal prosecution,” Nathan said.
Employees found to have defrauded the government will be fired, Mayor Vincent Gray's office says.
“We will get to the bottom of it because it’s outrageous and unacceptable,” Council member Michael Brown said.
Council member Mary Cheh said the loophole that allowed this will be closed.
“I don’t know that it’s collusion but I do know that if somebody tells one person, ‘You know, you can still keep collecting those checks,’ you don’t have to actually be in a full-blown conspiracy or colluding, but word might spread that there might be a way to scam the government,” she said.