Franklin Commonwealth’s Attorney Larry Cleveland wants to review a state inspector general’s report alleging how at least 19 state workers at the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet improperly collected $54,232 in state and federal unemployment benefits during April and May of 2020.
Criminal charges could be filed if prosecutors determine that state laws were broken, Cleveland said Monday.
“There are some statutes about making false claims or providing false information to get public assistance,” Cleveland said. “Or it could just be a matter of theft by deception. It’s probably best to just keep it as simple as possible, and theft by deception is pretty simple.”
The prosecutor said he called Inspector General Maryellen Mynear and asked her for a copy of her file on the case after reading about her report Thursday in the Herald-Leader. He said he expects to get the file this week.
“It’s a terrible thing,” Cleveland said. “It’s a bad thing that these people did, if it’s true.”
In her Feb. 19 report for Gov. Andy Beshear, which the Herald-Leader recently obtained under the Open Records Act, Mynear wrote that a small cluster of state workers who had never lost their full-time employment gamed the system in order to claim unemployment benefits for themselves.
The majority were employed at the Office of Unemployment Insurance or the Unemployment Insurance Commission, where they were assigned to help process Kentuckians’ pandemic-related jobless claims.
The state workers filed for jobless benefits based on the alleged pandemic-related loss of part-time jobs that sometimes did not exist and other times did exist but were not truly lost, Mynear wrote. However, the jobless benefits tended to be based on their much larger full-time state government wages, she wrote.
Some of them used their access to the state’s unemployment benefits system to check on their own claims and those of colleagues and friends, according to the report. In some cases, they removed “stops” that were placed on their claims once suspicions arose in late April 2020.
Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman is secretary of the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet. After the episode was detected by senior managers, the Office of Unemployment Insurance’s executive director, Muncie McNamara, was fired, and the office was transferred to the Labor Cabinet.
Beshear condemned the scheme at his daily news conference last Thursday.
“I ordered that investigation,” Beshear said. “Because when we learned that some employees might have been getting on the systems themselves to process their own unemployment claims, it was absolutely unacceptable. I think it’s unethical. And I asked the inspector general to do a full and independent investigation and get us that information.”
At that time, Beshear said some of the state workers have been fired, and he confirmed that his administration had heard from prosecutors with an interest in possibly pursuing criminal charges.
“We’ve certainly had some inquiries,” Beshear said last Thursday.