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Cinnaminson Man Charged With Stealing Unemployment Insurance While in Jail

Garrett allegedly stole over $12,000 in unemployment insurance benefits while serving time in Burlington County Jail for a DWI.

Cinnaminson Man Charged With Stealing Unemployment Insurance While in Jail
A Cinnaminson man was among eight defendants who have been indicted for allegedly stealing a total of approximately $100,000 in unemployment insurance benefits while they were in county jails and ineligible to receive them, Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced Tuesday morning.

Russell Garrett, 35, was indicted on May 16. It is alleged that from Aug. 20, 2009 to Feb. 3, 2010, Garrett collected $12,848 in unemployment insurance benefits while serving a sentence for driving while intoxicated in the Burlington County Jail.

He was one of four defendants indicted on May 16. The other four were indicted on Monday.

Each defendant is charged with third-degree theft by deception, which carries a potential sentence of three to five years in state prison and a criminal fine of up to $15,000 upon conviction.

The cases were referred to the Attorney General’s Office by the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, which has been cracking down on unemployment insurance fraud since 2011, saving the New Jersey Unemployment Trust Fund an estimated $448 million to date. Among the many anti-fraud practices and procedures adopted was a routine of cross-checking state unemployment insurance lists against rosters of county jail inmates. The measure was put into place a month before the Office of the State Comptroller released a report last year noting that county inmates were abusing a number of government assistance programs. 

These eight defendants represent the first round of prosecutions resulting from referrals from the Department of Labor and the ongoing investigative efforts of the Division of Criminal Justice.

“These defendants stole from a program that serves as a financial safety net for New Jersey workers,” Hoffman said. “Unemployment insurance benefits are intended to help workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own, not to provide a free paycheck to criminals while they sit in jail after breaking our laws.”

“To collect unemployment benefits, you must be ready and able to work,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice.  “These defendants stole tens of thousands of dollars in benefits by falsely certifying, time after time, that they were available to work, when in fact they were behind bars. We’re continuing to work with the Department of Labor to investigate this type of fraud, and we expect to charge additional defendants.”

The thefts alleged in the case unfolded at a time when the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund was under heavy financial pressure. It became insolvent in 2009, after two decades of administrative diversions from the fund were followed by a severe recession that forced massive benefit payments.

“While we imposed steps to responsibly manage the fund, my department also imposed programs to stop fraud and those steps saved us almost $450 million in just a few years. The anti-fraud measures were so successful that we were able to bring the trust fund back to full solvency last month, two years ahead of anyone’s expectations. Our anti-fraud measures are paying off, and we will continue to pursue anyone we find defrauding this important safety net,” said Commissioner Harold J. Wirths of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

The Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau obtained indictments charging the following defendants with third-degree theft by deception.  In each case, it is alleged that the defendants fraudulently certified via the Internet each week, or by phone every other week, as required to receive benefits, that the individual receiving benefits was “physically able to work” and “available to go to work immediately,” when in fact he was in jail and therefore not eligible to receive benefits.

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