District fires workers in unemployment benefits probe - The Roger Hedgecock Show - Talk Radio

District fires workers in unemployment benefits probe

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Mayor Vincent C. Gray's administration has fired 61 city employees for collecting unemployment benefits while working for the District government, city officials said Tuesday.

The city's Department of Employment Services, which oversees the jobless-compensation program, said in February that dozens of current and former city workers had received the fraudulent payments.

The checks ranged from a few hundred dollars to more than $20,000 per employee since 2009 — or about $800,000 in all — according to city officials. The city suspended 92 employees, among them the 61 who have been recently terminated.

"We're not going to tolerate this kind of activity in the government," said Pedro Ribeiro, Gray's spokesman. "The matter's been turned over to theOffice of the Attorney General, which will use civil litigation to recoup the money ," he said, adding that Attorney General Irv Nathan "is planning to use the full extent of his authority."

DOES Director Lisa Mallory said that since the February suspensions, the agency had discovered overpayments to more current employees. "We found another batch of 100," she said in an interview Tuesday.

Those workers must be notified and have the opportunity to appeal before their alleged overpayments become cases. City officials do not yet have estimates on how much compensation those 100 employees received.

The Office of the Inspector General, which has garnered guilty pleas in eight similar investigations since December 2010, has teamed with Nathan's office to conduct the investigation.

City officials have declined to list names, job titles or departments of those who received the payments, citing personnel laws. But Nathan has said many of the workers were in the Office of the State Superintendent of Education and described them as drivers.

Officials said they expect to fire more employees, in addition to the 61, and that a few employees have escaped termination. The probe found three employees were unaware of the erroneous payments, according to records obtained by The Washington Post, and therefore avoided termination. The city also has decided to use "alternative discipline" on a handful of employees: two accepted suspensions while another returned to work after repaying the money.

In those cases, "the amount was significantly low or it was an oversight," Ribeiro said.

DOES is conducting an audit of payments distributed since 2009. With the help of funding from the U.S. Department of Labor, the city agency said it has instituted a more comprehensive cross-checking system that compares city payroll lists, a national database of new hires and unemployment recipients.

Mallory pointed to Gray's "mandate" to eradicate waste in city government.

The Gray administration had a shaky start last year, criticized for high salaries and questionable hires. Gray terminated or asked for resignations of several of those high-profile employees, and his administration now requires all employees to sign an ethics pledge.

Mallory said unemployment compensation was one of the areas that DOES knew needed some house-cleaning. "We are not going to stand for any abuse in any of these programs," she said.

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