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Former UIA contract worker sentenced for stealing taxpayer money
July 18, 2023
State jobless agency committed to prosecuting fraudsters, strengthening program integrity
The Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) thanked its law enforcement partners for their work on a case that ended with today’s sentencing of a former agency contract worker who used her insider access to pay jobless benefits on fictitious claims created with stolen identities. The UIA is committed to strengthening the integrity of the state’s unemployment insurance system by working collaboratively to fight fraud and bring bad actors to justice.
“It’s shocking and discouraging when someone hired by the UIA uses the cover of a global economic crisis to scheme with others to steal taxpayer money for their own gratification,” said Julia Dale, Director of the UIA. “We won’t tolerate such shameful behavior and will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to root out fraudsters, both within and outside of the UIA, and strengthen the program’s integrity.”
Regulation agents with the UIA’s Fraud and Investigations Division built a detailed case against Semaje Reffigee by identifying irregular claim activity that uncovered a kickback scheme to defraud the agency and Michigan taxpayers. Reffigee is one of nearly 50 fraudsters – four of them former UIA staff or contract workers – who have been convicted of unemployment insurance crimes. Many more cases are pending.
In a plea agreement, Reffigee was sentenced in Detroit to 18 months in prison on one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud for her participation in the pandemic-related unemployment insurance fraud scheme. She was ordered to pay $313,497 in restitution to the state of Michigan.
The UIA uses internal and external tools as well as close collaborations with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies to file charges and bring suspects to justice. Charges have been brought in more than 100 criminal cases UIA’s investigators have built since March 2020. Once detailed evidence is gathered and suspects identified, agents work with the Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General (U.S. DOL-OIG) as well as local, state and federal authorities to prosecute the cases.
“Michigan’s unemployment program is an important lifeline for workers who lose their job and despicable actions by bad actors such as Semaje Reffigee damage the trust workers have in the system,” Director Dale added. “Reffigee is one of nearly 50 criminals so far who have been convicted of unemployment insurance fraud, and she won’t be the last.”
To date, 115 individuals have been charged in connection with unemployment benefits fraud and 46 have been convicted.
For its work fighting fraud, UIA has won four national DOL-OIG awards since 2019:
- A regulation agent this year was recognized for bringing down a multi-state criminal enterprise that operated out of Florida to steal more than $250,000 in unemployment benefits in Michigan.
- In 2022, a regulation agent was recognized for a successful investigation and prosecution of a UIA contract employee and two co-conspirators. The three defrauded the State of Michigan and the U.S. government of more than $3.8 million through fraudulent claims during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- In 2019 and 2020, the Michigan UIA was named the Most Improved Integrity Program for the previous year based on DOL performance metrics.
Director Dale has prioritized anti-fraud efforts as part of her commitment to transform the agency into a national model for fair, fast, and fraud-free service. Key to that effort is installing a new computer system that will include robust anti-fraud processes to build on the agency’s current aggressive practices. The uFACTS computer system, expected to be fully operational by mid-2025, will provide a totally new experience that will be easy to use and speed up the processing of claims.
Among the wide-ranging reforms UIA Director Dale has launched in her nearly two years as director, the 11th person to serve in that role in as many years, are:
- Naming Kim Breitmeyer as the UIA’s Legal Advisor and head of the Legal and Compliance Bureau, which will leverage collaborative anti-fraud practices to effectively pursue bad actors.
- Creating the UIA Modernization Workgroup, consisting of labor, business, and jobless advocates to advise the UIA on significant improvements in how it can better serve Michigan workers and employers, including cutting down on fraud.
- Extending until the end of September 2024 the employment of nearly 50 limited term staff in the Investigations Division, with plans to hire more than 30 others to help work on cases.
- Implementing new ethics and security clearance policies for employees and contractors.
The What is UI Fraud webpage explains the tools and resources UIA leverages in its prioritized anti-fraud efforts.
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