|TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that eight defendants have been indicted for allegedly stealing a total of approximately $100,000 in unemployment insurance benefits while they were in county jails and ineligible to receive them. The defendants include five former inmates and three spouses of the inmates.
The Division of Criminal Justice obtained state grand jury indictments charging four defendants yesterday. The other four defendants were indicted on May 16. The inmates, most of whom were serving jail terms for driving while intoxicated, collected amounts ranging from $12,000 to more than $28,000. The spouses allegedly assisted the inmates in the fraud. Each defendant is charged with third-degree theft by deception, which carries a potential sentence of three to five years in state prison and a criminal fine of up to $15,000 upon conviction.
The cases were referred to the Attorney General’s Office by the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, which has been cracking down on unemployment insurance fraud since 2011, saving the New Jersey Unemployment Trust Fund an estimated $448 million to date. Among the many anti-fraud practices and procedures adopted was a routine of cross-checking state unemployment insurance lists against rosters of county jail inmates. The measure was put into place a month before the Office of the State Comptroller released a report last year noting that county inmates were abusing a number of government assistance programs.
These eight defendants represent the first round of prosecutions resulting from referrals from the Department of Labor and the ongoing investigative efforts of the Division of Criminal Justice.
“These defendants stole from a program that serves as a financial safety net for New Jersey workers,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “Unemployment insurance benefits are intended to help workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own, not to provide a free paycheck to criminals while they sit in jail after breaking our laws.”
“To collect unemployment benefits, you must be ready and able to work,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “These defendants stole tens of thousands of dollars in benefits by falsely certifying, time after time, that they were available to work, when in fact they were behind bars. We’re continuing to work with the Department of Labor to investigate this type of fraud, and we expect to charge additional defendants.”
The thefts alleged in the case unfolded at a time when the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund was under heavy financial pressure. It became insolvent in 2009, after two decades of administrative diversions from the fund were followed by a severe recession that forced massive benefit payments.
“While we imposed steps to responsibly manage the fund, my department also imposed programs to stop fraud and those steps saved us almost $450 million in just a few years. The anti-fraud measures were so successful that we were able to bring the trust fund back to full solvency last month, two years ahead of anyone’s expectations. Our anti-fraud measures are paying off, and we will continue to pursue anyone we find defrauding this important safety net,” said Commissioner Harold J. Wirths of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
The Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau obtained indictments charging the following defendants with third-degree theft by deception. In each case, it is alleged that the defendants fraudulently certified via the Internet each week, or by phone every other week, as required to receive benefits, that the individual receiving benefits was “physically able to work” and “available to go to work immediately,” when in fact he was in jail and therefore not eligible to receive benefits.
- Kurt Ohlson, 52, of Sweetwater, and his ex-wife, Donna Ohlson, 48, of Mays Landing, were indicted yesterday, June 9. It is alleged that from Aug. 18, 2009 to June 17, 2010, they fraudulently collected $25,696 in unemployment insurance benefits for Kurt Ohlson, while he was serving a sentence for driving while intoxicated in the Atlantic County Jail. Donna Ohlson allegedly assisted with the false certifications, and she collected the benefits with her ex-husband.
- Edward T. Soto, 34, and his wife, Jessica M. Soto, 32, of Bayville, were indicted yesterday, June 9. It is alleged that from Sept. 30 2009 to March 28, 2010, they fraudulently collected $14,404 in unemployment insurance benefits for Edward Soto, while he was serving a sentence for driving while intoxicated in the Ocean County Jail. Jessica Soto allegedly assisted with the false certifications, and she collected the benefits with her husband.
- Theodore Campbell, 59, and Diana Campbell, 57, of Beachwood, were indicted on May 16. It is alleged that from Feb. 11, 2009 to Feb. 5, 2010, they fraudulently collected $28,392 in unemployment insurance benefits for Theodore Campbell, while he was serving a sentence for driving while intoxicated in the Ocean County Jail. Diana Campbell allegedly assisted with the false certifications, and she collected the benefits with her husband.
- Nado Shaw, 34, of Southampton, was indicted on May 16. It is alleged that from Aug. 28, 2009 to May 28, 2010, Shaw collected $20,475 in unemployment insurance benefits while serving a sentence for aggravated assault with a weapon in the Burlington County Jail.
- Russell Garrett, 35, of Cinnaminson, was indicted on May 16. It is alleged that from Aug. 20, 2009 to Feb. 3, 2010, Garrett collected $12,848 in unemployment insurance benefits while serving a sentence for driving while intoxicated in the Burlington County Jail.
The indictments are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. The indictments were handed up in Superior Court in Mercer County. They were assigned to Superior Court in the counties where the defendants reside.
Deputy Attorney General Brian Carney presented each case to the state grand jury for the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crime Bureau, under the supervision of Deputy Attorney General Jill Mayer, who is Bureau Chief, and Deputy Attorney General Paul Salvatoriello, Acting Deputy Bureau Chief. The cases were investigated by Detectives Lynn Fitzgerald, Sean Egan, Glenn Stanton and John Neggia of the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau.
Acting Attorney General Hoffman thanked the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development for its referrals and valuable assistance in the investigations.