State and federal authorities have arrested 47 people since April — including 17 from the Baton Rouge area — in an ongoing crackdown on unemployment insurance, the head of the state’s labor agency said Tuesday.
The allegations of fraud were tracked down the old-fashioned way: relying on tips and comparing records, said Curt Eysink, executive director for the Louisiana Workforce Commission.
A new program, which merges databases from various state agencies to quickly uncover questionable activities, will be working full time by the end of the year, he said.
“With these additional anti-fraud tools in place, we can much more quickly act on cases, such as the one involving the Florida man,” Eysink said at a news conference.
The Workforce Commission once was called the state Department of Labor.
Arnold H. Thomas, 47, of Fernandina Beach, Fla., took more than $1.2 million from the Louisiana Workforce Commission between September 2005 and May 2010, according to his indictment which was returned under seal by a federal grand jury in February.
Thomas filed unemployment claims under the names of nonexistent former employees at fictitious firms and collected the proceeds, according to the indictment.
The Workforce Commission identified the potential fraud in 2009 and had been working with U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General on the Thomas case, he said.
The primary method of fraud, Eysink said, occurs when someone continues to collect unemployment benefits after getting a new job.
The 47 people were arrested since April on allegations of defrauding the state’s unemployment trust fund of about $415,000, according to a news release.
The fraud cases were put together by the Workforce Commission, the state Attorney General, the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“It is imperative that we do these cases as a collaborative endeavor,” said U.S. Attorney Don Cazayoux.
Eysink said the Workforce Commission has established agreements to share information gathered by several state agencies. The data can be cross-matched to show relationships between unemployment claimants, companies and incidents. Additionally, the program will allow the Workforce Commission to create models that suggest possible fraud cases that would allow investigators to focus their efforts, he said. Such comparisons are difficult to accomplish by hand, he said.
Eysink said the program, which is being vetted now, should be in full operation by the end of the year.
“We can’t stop people from trying to defraud the system but we can stop people from stealing a lot of money and we can catch them early in the process,” Eysink said. “That’s what we’re aiming to do through this coordinated effort and through the systems we’re putting in place.”