CROWN POINT | A Gary man must repay $38,000 in the region's latest case of unemployment benefits theft.
Clarence Andrews, 46, wasn’t singled out for exposure by Indiana Department of Workforce Development because the agency makes public every successful prosecution, said Joe Franks, agency spokesman.Andrews, a steelworker, pleaded guilty to felony theft Oct. 24 in exchange for the state dismissing a charge of welfare fraud. The court suspended a three-year prison sentence, ordering the time to be served on probation.
Andrew was also ordered to repay $21,802 in unemployment benefits plus penalties and interest for a total of $37,831.
"It just lets folks know you will be caught," Frank said of publicizing Andrews' conviction. "The system we have in place makes it difficult to be gaming the system without being noticed."
Frank said the government is not seeing a rise in such fraud despite the poor economy.
"We're seeing less since it's being publicized more," he said.
Frank said the federal mandate to the states to track applications and employers' ability to dispute them make it difficult for workers not to get caught.
The DWD sends employers a notice documenting their charges for former employees' unemployment insurance benefits. Employers may dispute the claim.
"I can't tell you why people still do this," Frank said of workers caught claiming unemployment benefits.
Andrews' attorney, William Padula, said Andrews "got into tough times." Padula said Andrews encountered a number of financial setbacks that included his work hours being cut back to three days.
However, Frank said the problem has to be pretty blatant before the state seeks prosecution.
"We don't go after folks who just made simple mistakes," he said. "We completely understand if you don't understand the system."