June 28, 2016
Will pay restitution totaling more than $38,000
AUGUSTA- Residents of Bangor, Deer Isle, East Machias, Millbridge and Mount Desert have each been convicted on separate charges of unemployment fraud this May. Unemployment benefit fraud involving principal amounts of $1,000 or more is a felony under Maine law.
“Although some may say that fraud in our benefit systems is ‘anecdotal,’ my administration knows that this crime diverts resources from the people who need them,” said Governor Paul R. LePage. “The Department of Labor has consistently worked over the past five years to improve the conviction rate of people committing unemployment fraud, preserving the benefits for people who are trying to get back to work. Ignoring fraud would burden Maine businesses by forcing them to pay higher unemployment taxes to fund the fraudulent benefits.”
Joseph S. Baker of Bangor was convicted on February 8, 2016, of theft by deception and received a court ordered restitution totaling $4,540. Baker, 29, plead guilty and was sentenced to 30 days of incarceration.
Shawn Betts of Deer Isle plead guilty a deferred disposition of 1 Count Class C Theft by deception and 1 Count Class E Unemployment Fraud. Betts, 27, was ordered to pay restitution at the rate $127.17 per month for the two years. If successful, these two charges will be dismissed and he will be sentenced to 364 days, all suspended and one year of probation for 1 Count of Class D Theft by Deception. The total amount of restitution to be repaid is $4,578.
Nathaniel S. Jamieson of East Machias, was convicted on May 17, 2016, on account of theft by deception class D. Jamieson, 34, was suspended for six months with a one year probation and a restitution totaling $5,018.
Kevin D. Nelson of Millbridge was convicted on May 17, 2016, of theft by deception class D. Nelson, 58, was suspended for six months with one year probation and a restitution totaling $9,554.
Kayla E. Massicotte of Mount Desert was sentenced to five years with all but 18 months suspended. Massicotte, 26, will also have a three-year probation period and will pay restitution of $15,896.00 to the Department of Labor. This sentence is to be served concurrently with the sentence imposed for non-unemployment insurance fraud charges.
“We will not tolerate unemployment fraud,” stated Commissioner of Labor Jeanne Paquette. “Our investigators continue to identify and move felony cases to prosecution. To date, in the first quarter of 2016, there have been a total of five convictions of unemployment fraud. There have been an additional 20 cases referred to the district attorneys for prosecution on charges of unemployment fraud.
During this same period, over $900,000 in benefits, which were fraudulently obtained, have been recovered through prosecution and other collection methods. In 2015 there were a total of 93 cases referred for prosecution, within these cases, 24 convictions were made and over $2.2 million in fraud debt was recovered. Accordingly, in 2014, there were a total of 90 cases referred for prosecutions, 34 of which resulted in convictions and over $1.2 million of fraud debt was recovered.
Currently, there are 142 cases pending prosecution at various District Attorneys’ offices. “Fraud prosecution and prevention is a priority. We continuously improve our reporting systems, obtaining information more quickly and identifying potential fraud earlier than ever before,” Commissioner Paquette said. “Once identified, we can recover the funds through voluntary payments, prosecution, wage garnishments, offset of unemployment benefits and intercepts of federal and state tax returns and lottery winnings.”
The commissioner explained what constitutes fraud. “For people claiming benefits, unemployment insurance fraud usually involves someone misrepresenting information to qualify for benefits,” she said. “In these cases, individuals continued to claim benefits after returning to work. In other cases, individuals might report that they are looking for work when they are not, or they might report having contacted employers in their search for work that they did not actually contact. Some may file claims under false pretense.”
To identify when people receiving benefits are hired for permanent work, the department cross-matches the list of active claimants against the National Directory of New Hires, the national wage records database and against employer-reported quarterly wage data.
The Department of Labor actively pursues the collection of benefit overpayments and any associated fines and interest. The collection process usually begins by contacting claimants to request repayment or establish a repayment schedule.
On the employer side of the unemployment system, fraud includes intentional misclassification of employees as independent contractors, misreporting worker wages to avoid payment of unemployment taxes and “SUTA dumping,” a rate manipulation practice for obtaining a lower tax rate than a company’s unemployment experience would otherwise allow.
Citizens can report instances of suspected unemployment fraud by phone, email, fax or mail; information is available at www.maine.gov/labor/unemployment/fraud.html . Tips can be kept confidential.