In order to receive unemployment benefits, a person has to be available for and actively seeking work.  If incarcerated, the program will not pay out. (It’s obviously hard to hold down a job if a person is behind bars or in shackles for a considerable amount of time.) With that in mind, it doesn’t seem fair that 127 Massachusetts state prisoners managed to collect nearly $150,000 in undeserved unemployment benefits over a two-and-a-half year period.  According to BostonHerald.com, some of those cases were never passed along to the Attorney General’s office to be prosecuted, and offenders were simply ordered to repay the money they had received. (Ouch! How did that happen?)

The story states that investigators from the Department of Unemployment Assistance were able to catch the perpetrators by cross-referencing the unemployment recipients against the Massachusetts Department of Correction’s inmate database. (What a fabulous idea!) The cons reportedly received a combined amount of nearly $150,000 and estimates suggest they would have made off with another $453,054 if they had not been caught.  The Attorney General’s Program Integrity Unit is working on recouping the lost funds. (Let me guess. I bet they’ll get maybe five cents on the dollar – if that.)

Two specific cases were mentioned in the article.  One included a former construction worker and convicted robber who netted $58,000 in the scam while serving a two-to-three year sentence behind bars.  The man’s wife was also allegedly in on the scheme and was charged with unemployment fraud.  The second case was similar and described a man in prison, his ex-wife and an old friend from prison, who all conspired to obtain nearly $50,000 in unemployment benefits.  The ex-wife admitted guilt and was ordered to pay $4,374 in restitution. (Wait – repay $4,374 when the total scam was for nearly $50,000?) Where’s the rest?) The prison buddy pleaded guilty to unemployment fraud and larceny over $250.  It looks like he is headed back to prison for one to two years plus three years of probation.

Kudos to the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance for cross-referencing resources to track down and eliminate fraud.  Their preventative efforts will help to keep the bad guys behind bars and the good guys, who play by the rules, receiving deserved benefits.

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