Former Labor Dept. Clerk Allegedly Redirected $18K In Unemployment Benefits To Her Own Account

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TRENTON – A former unemployment insurance clerk for the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development has been indicted on charges that she stole $18,825 in unemployment benefits by using her access to the department’s computer system to redirect benefits from unemployment claims to her own bank account, Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced.

The Division of Criminal Justice obtained a state grand jury indictment on Sept. 12 charging Patricia Garcia, 31, of Old Bridge (formerly of North Bergen), with official misconduct (2nd degree), computer theft (2nd degree), and theft by deception (3rd degree). The charges are the result of an investigation by the New Jersey Department of Labor-Office of Internal Audit and the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau.

“This state clerk was entrusted with the important responsibility of processing unemployment insurance claims for New Jersey workers who lost their jobs,” said Hoffman. “However, we allege that she shamelessly used her position to steal nearly $19,000 in unemployment benefits. We will not tolerate government employees who violate the public’s trust for their personal gain.”

“We urge anyone with information about suspected thefts of government funds or property to alert the Division of Criminal Justice so that we can investigate thoroughly,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “In this case, the Department of Labor obtained information that led to a joint investigation by our two agencies.”

“Since I’ve been commissioner we have maintained a zero tolerance against fraud whether it comes from inside or outside the department,” said Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Harold J. Wirths. “We will take all steps necessary to protect public funds.”

Hoffman and Honig noted that the Division of Criminal Justice has established a toll-free Corruption Tipline 1-866-TIPS-4CJ for the public to confidentially report corruption, financial crime and other illegal activities. The public also can log on to the division’s web page at www.njdcj.org to report suspected wrongdoing confidentially.

Between Dec. 19, 2011 and Jan. 27, 2012, Garcia allegedly used her position as an unemployment insurance clerk to access the Department of Labor’s computers and fraudulently redirect a total of $18,825 in unemployment benefits from four different claims into her personal bank account. Three of the claims should have been discontinued, either because the individual had found work or because the claim had been disqualified or had not been re-certified for benefits. However, it is alleged that Garcia secretly continued or reactivated the claims in order to steal benefits by redirecting them to her bank account. The fourth unemployment insurance claim was allegedly filed by Garcia in the name of an individual who had been collecting on a pending disability insurance claim.

Deputy Attorney General Anthony P. Torntore presented the case to the state grand jury. The investigation was conducted for the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau by Deputy Attorney General Torntore and Detective Lynn Fitzgerald. The investigation was conducted for the New Jersey Department of Labor-Office of Internal Audit by Fraud Investigators Natalie Taylor and John Sudia.

The second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison, including five years of parole ineligibility, and a $150,000 fine. The third-degree charge carries a sentence of three to five years in state prison, including two years of parole ineligibility, and a $15,000 fine. The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The indictment was handed up to Superior Court Judge Thomas W. Sumners, Jr. in Mercer County. The case is assigned to Mercer County, where Garcia will be ordered to appear at a later date to be arraigned on the charges.

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