DISTRICT AG TO SUE FORMER CITY WORKERS FOR FRAUDULANT JOBLESS BENEFITS
By Nikita Stewart, April 18, 2012 + Washington Post
The District’s attorney general will sue city employees recently fired for collecting unemployment benefits while working.
Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan said Wednesday his office will begin filing civil lawsuits “in the next few weeks” to get back the city’s money. District officials have estimated that the city distributed fraudulent payments of as much as $800,000 since 2009.
Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s administration has fired 61 out of 92 employees who were suspended in February, pending the outcome of an investigation that involves combing through city records to determine whether workers double-dipped over the past three years.
More employees are expected to be fired, and the Department of Employment Services, which administers the jobless benefits program, has found that another 100 workers may have received fraudulent payments as well. At least 40 workers who had left the District employment before the February suspension have also been implicated.
“Like our Mayor, I take these cases very seriously. My office is fully committed to recouping all monies it can from present and former city employees who illegally obtained unemployment compensation while working for the city government,” Nathan said in a statement Wednesday. “As we continue to receive referrals from the Office of the Inspector General — about 30 cases thus far — we are preparing civil collection cases against the individuals involved. We expect to begin filing these cases in the next few weeks.”
The checks ranged from a few hundred dollars to more than $20,000 per employee. Gray spokesman Pedro Ribeiro said the city had turned over the cases to the Office of the Attorney General to recoup the money.
“We’re not going to tolerate this kind of activity in the government,” Ribeiro said.
DOES Director Lisa Mallory said that since the February suspensions, the agency had discovered overpayments to more current employees. “We found another batch of 100,” she said.
Those workers must be notified and have the opportunity to appeal before their alleged overpayments become cases. City officials do not yet have estimates on how much compensation those 100 employees received.
The Office of the Inspector General, which has garnered guilty pleas in eight similar investigations since December 2010, has teamed with Nathan’s office to conduct the investigation.
City officials have declined to list names, job titles or departments of those who received the overpayments, citing personnel laws. But Nathan has said many of the workers were in the Office of the State Superintendent of Education and described them as drivers.
Officials said that they expect to fire more employees, in addition to the 61, and that a few employees have escaped termination. The probe found three employees were unaware the payments were in error and avoided termination, according to records obtained by The Washington Post. The city also has decided to use “alternative discipline” on a handful of employees: two accepted suspensions while another returned to work after repaying the money.
In those cases, “the amount was significantly low or it was an oversight,” Ribeiro said.
DOES is conducting an audit of payments distributed since 2009. With the help of funding from the U.S. Department of Labor, the city agency said it has instituted a more comprehensive cross-checking system that compares city payroll lists, a national database of new hires and unemployment recipients.
Mallory pointed to Gray’s “mandate” to eradicate waste in city government.
The Gray administration had a shaky start last year, criticized for high salaries and questionable hires. Gray terminated or asked for resignations of several of those high-profile employees, and his administration now requires all employees to sign an ethics pledge.
Mallory said unemployment compensation was one of the areas that DOES knew needed some house-cleaning. “We are not going to stand for any abuse in any of these programs,” she said.