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GA state employees suspected of stealing more than $6.7M in unemployment benefits, audit claims

ATLANTA — Nearly 300 state employees are suspected of stealing tens of thousands of dollars in unemployment benefits during the pandemic.

A new internal state investigation identifies more than 280 state employees who applied for and collected the benefits, despite the fact that they were still employed by the state of Georgia.

Channel 2 Consumer Investigator Justin Gray first reported on the audit Wednesday morning on WSBTV.com and was at the headquarters of the Georgia Department of Labor on Wednesday night.

Georgia’s state Inspector General, Scott McAfee, warned Georgia Governor Brian Kemp in a bombshell letter that there are at least 250 state employees who may have committed unemployment fraud who are still on the taxpayer payroll and have not been disciplined.

“Those payments averaged $23,700 per employee and totaled more than $6.7 million,” McAfee said in the letter.

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Bruce Thompson is the state’s newly elected, incoming state Labor Commissioner. He said the information in the audit is shameful.

“The fact that we have state employees committing fraudulent acts while we have other people who can’t get payments due to them, that’s a big problem,” Thompson said.

McAfee said that so far, he’s interviewed two-dozen full-time state employees who collected unemployment. Nearly all of them have since been terminated, including a woman hired from another state agency as a Department of Labor claims manager. Hawkins said in the letter that she continued updating her fraudulent unemployment account while employed at the Department of Labor.

“If you willfully do that, we should prosecute to the fullest, especially if you are a state employee,” Thompson said.

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The Inspector General also said in a footnote that the Department of Labor and its leadership rebuffed efforts to cooperate with the investigation.

Gray talked to the DOL Commissioner Mark Butler, who said that federal and state law prevented him from sharing some data with the Inspector General’s office.

“They wanted a lot of personal information about state employees that we could not legally hand over to them, especially not based upon a fishing expedition,” Butler said. “It was not legally permissible.”

According to the IG’s letter, the Federal Department of Labor stepped in and did provide the information for the audit.

Since Channel 2 Action News first broke the story on Wednesday morning, Gray has been flooded with messages from outraged Georgians who have struggled unsuccessfully to collect unemployment they were entitled to, while some state employees allegedly double-dipped.

The IG is asking the General Assembly to extend the statute of limitations for pandemic fraud. McAfee said there’s no way his office has the resources to individually investigate each of the 250 remaining employees suspected of fraud.

The dozens who have been identified have been turned over to the attorney general for potential prosecution.


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