Attempt at defrauding agency needs to be repaid

Published 3:40 am Friday, June 3, 2005

By Staff
Two hundred and 15 workers with Atlantic Automotive in Benton Harbor have been ordered to repay unemployment insurance (UI) benefits they drew while on the job.
The state must fight this fraud aggressively to protect the integrity of the UI program to insure it remains fiscally sound and able to help those legitimately entitled to jobless benefits.
In the remaining 140 cases, workers failed to correctly report some earnings, such as holiday, training or vacation pay, while they collected unemployment benefits.
In all, the 215 must repay $693,419 in unemployment benefits to the state's UI program.
The 75 who intentionally defrauded the agency must pay an additional $2.3 million in penalties.
If the agency is not compensated for the benefits and penalties, then it will begin collection efforts that could ultimately lead to liens against their personal property and tax returns.
Bommarito said the plan to defraud the agency began after periodic layoffs at Atlantic Automotive that typically occur each January and July.
Employees file for jobless benefits during the layoffs.
In 75 cases, however, workers continued to claim unemployment benefits after the layoffs ended and they were back to work.
UIA will begin efforts to reclaim the benefits that were paid to all 215 Atlantic Automotive workers, as well as penalty charges.
Methods at the agency's disposal for recouping the money include: having all or part of the workers' Michigan income tax refund withheld and applied against their restitution; recovering the workers' restitution and penalties from future unemployment benefits; placing a lien against property they own in Michigan or against any bank accounts they have in the state, or both, to collect the penalties; and referring the account to Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox to obtain a judgment for restitution and penalties and garnish the workers' wages.
In addition to fighting fraud among workers, the agency is focusing on employers who are paying less than their fair share of unemployment taxes through a practice known as "SUTA dumping."