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State officials set sights on unemployment fraud

While economic conditions here in Florida and across the nation have improved considerably since the nightmare that was the Great Recession, it would be a mistake to think that we are somehow immune from any sort of ongoing financial difficulties. Indeed, the simple and sad reality is that thousands of Floridians are currently out of work.

If there is one bright spot in all this, however, it's that people can seek unemployment benefits from the Department of Economic Opportunity.

As it turns out, however, unemployment insurance has become a favored target of criminal activity over the last few years, meaning people are fraudulently assuming the identity of others in order to secure unemployment benefits they don't really need.

To get a better picture of how big the problem has become, consider that a special unit commissioned by the Department of Economic Opportunity intercepted over 146,000 otherwise fraudulent claims worth an estimated $603 million in 2014 alone.

Not surprisingly, state lawmakers are now looking to crack down on this criminal activity. In fact, Rep. Mike La Rosa (R-St. Cloud) and Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) have introduced legislation in their respective chambers that, if passed, would see the state adopt a much more aggressive stance toward unemployment fraud.

Specifically, it calls for the following:

  • Enabling the Department of Economic Opportunity to access the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicle's driver's license database for verification assistance
  • Prohibiting those caught engaging in unemployment fraud from seeking this assistance in a lawful manner (5-year-ban for a first offense, 10-year-ban for a second offense, lifetime ban for a third offense)
  • Amending the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act to include unemployment fraud under the definition of "racketeering activity"

Thus far, the House Economic Development & Tourism Subcommittee has approved the measure, meaning it's perhaps well on its way to becoming the new law here in Florida.

What this means from a practical perspective is that regardless of whether the bill actually passes, law enforcement officials are looking to make an example out of people they believe have engaged in unemployment fraud.

At the Law Offices of Horwitz & Citro, P.A., we are dedicated to ensuring that otherwise innocent parties don't see their good names irreparably damaged because of the overzealousness of law enforcement officials. We analyze the defenses to determine the best course of action which might be to seek a jury trial or might be to negotiate a plea agreement to minimize the potentional sentence. We have extensive experience handling fraud-related charges and are ready to go work on your behalf.