Chief State’s Attorney And CT Dept. Of Labor Partner To Combat Unemployment Compensation Fraud
(May 18, 2021) – Chief State’s Attorney Richard J. Colangelo, Jr. and Connecticut Department of Labor (CTDOL) Commissioner Kurt Westby today announced an agreement to re-establish an unemployment fraud prosecution unit in the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney. The unit, funded by $386,000 from the American Rescue Plan, will investigate and prosecute cases of unemployment compensation fraud with the goal of returning stolen funds to the unemployment system and deterring future fraud.
Chief State’s Attorney Colangelo said, “We are grateful for the Department of Labor’s assistance in this new cooperative investigative unit. Our previous efforts in this area were highly successful and we are hopeful that the reconstituted unit will make similar progress on an even greater scale. People should understand that claiming unemployment benefits you are not entitled to is a crime and may result in a criminal record, restitution, and possibly jail time.”
Commissioner Westby said, “Federal pandemic unemployment programs triggered an increase in criminal activity—identity theft, false claims, and sophisticated schemes that defrauded the programs that are a lifeline to so many. Labor agencies are in the business of implementing unemployment programs; we can identify threats and bad actors, but it is really our partnerships with the Connecticut State Police and law enforcement that protect unemployment funding. I thank Chief State’s Attorney Colangelo and his whole team for their collaboration. Their resources and expertise are much needed and much appreciated as we continue pandemic recovery efforts.”
Connecticut State Police Colonel Stavros Mellekas said, “The Connecticut State Police will continue to protect the integrity of the state’s unemployment funding. We are committed to working with our partners to investigate and arrest those who are defrauding the system.”
The new unit will be made up of an Assistant State’s Attorney and two Division of Criminal Justice Police Inspectors and will be housed in the Statewide Prosecution Bureau of the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney. They will investigate fraud and prosecute those who improperly claimed to be unemployed. The Office of the Chief State’s Attorney will make reimbursement of any fraudulently obtained funds a condition of any criminal disposition.
Since March 13, 2020, the Connecticut Department of Labor has received more than 1.5 million applications and paid out more than $8 billion in state and federal unemployment claims. CTDOL has already identified and stopped at least 150,000 false claims and has been hit by several large waves of fraudulent applications that require significant staff time to process. The most recent was early March 2021 when 20,000 fraudulent applications came in over the course of just a few days. CTDOL, like labor agencies throughout the nation, experienced an uptick in criminal attacks with the rollout of new federal unemployment programs. The agency works with Connecticut State Police and federal law enforcement partners to protect unemployment programs and claimants.
Prior to the pandemic, unemployment fraud centered on unreported earnings or eligibility factors. However, during the pandemic, fraudulent claims have primarily been identity theft or false claims against the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. To protect the CTDOL systems, filers, and programs, the agency follows the recommendations of law enforcement and does not identify specific fraud prevention mechanisms or protocols.
The initiative revives a similar cooperative agreement between the two agencies that was disbanded in 2018 due to budget and staff reductions in both agencies. Communication and expertise in both agencies made the program very effective and led to nearly 300 arrests and $2 million recovered to the Trust Fund.
The new fraud unit will be operational within the next few months. Members of the public with information on unemployment fraud are encouraged to contact the fraud unit at firstname.lastname@example.org