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Illinois Inmates Raked In Almost $2 Million Through Unemployment Fraud

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A cell block is seen during a media tour of the Thomson Correctional Center in Thomson, Ill. | AP

The Illinois Department of Employment Security on Wednesday announced it had compiled data indicating more than 1,100 people have fraudulently collected nearly $2 million in unemployment benefits while in county jails or state prisons, with some claims dating back as far as 2010. To uncover the bogus payments, the agency cross-matched names of individuals collecting unemployment insurance benefits with inmate lists from Illinois' county jails and state prisons.

According to IDES Director Jay Rowell:

"The inmate cross-matching initiative is another important step in rooting out waste, fraud and abuse. Money that funds the unemployment insurance program comes from businesses. Stopping fraud helps our businesses reduce costs, which leads to new hires and a stronger economy."

The report includes the stunning breakdown of wrongful payments from just Cook County and collar counties:
  • Cook County: 296 inmates collected $722,689
  • Will County: 21 inmates collected $85,159
  • Lake County: 20 inmates collected $84,533

The report states the largest single wrongfully collected amount was nearly "$43,000 on behalf of one individual in the Cook County Jail." According to the Chicago Tribune, most inmates started collecting benefits from 2012, but some claims were linked to 2011, with two starting in 2010.

The individuals could face criminal charges and must repay the nearly $2 million in unemployment insurance benefits; to recoup the funds, the department will "garnish federal and state tax returns if necessary." IDES says integrity initiatives have saved taxpayers $120 million in the past year.

The findings conclude a three-month study the department began in July, when the investigation began after State Rep. John Cavaletto raised concerns about potential fraud at the Marion County Jail.

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