An 11-month investigation into unemployment compensation fraud led to 19 people being indicted this week on charges that they stole unemployment benefits worth between $11,000 and $40,000 each, the chief federal prosecutor announced Friday.
Two of those who were indicted were serving time in prison and collecting unemployment benefits, said Stephen Wigginton, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, at a news conference.
Wigginton said prosecution of these thefts has to be done aggressively but since most of the money in the federal program goes toward paying benefits, there is little left for enforcement and protection of the program.
"We need more money for more agents to do more investigations. If we had more agents, we'd catch more fraudsters," Wigginton said.
He said benefit scams go beyond unemployment as people also defraud the Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid programs.
"Personally, it disgusts me, when I look at the number of applicants who defraud the public programs that are there to help the poor, the needy and the frail," Wigginton said.
In 2010, 860,000 people received unemployment benefits in Illinois and in 2012, 763,000 have received benefits. Two percent of these numbers are fraudulent, Wigginton said.
Those charged with stealing a grand total of more than $368,052 were:
* Gloria Barker, 60, of Belleville
* Michael Douglas, 30, of O'Fallon
* Lula Gooden, 48, of Centreville
* Cymica Grant, 40, of Belleville
* Roda Jeffries, 41, of Belleville
* Ontonio Jennings, 36, of Granite City
* Herman Peterson, 57, of East St. Louis
* Yvette Rutherford, 44, of Granite City
* Bryan Samuels, 47, of Madison
* Kevin Veath, 54, of Millstadt
* Charles Brumley, 41, of Alton
* Cartemus London, 37, of Chicago
* Kevin Presson, 39, of Centralia
* Timothy Russell, 46, and Rebecca Russell, age 41, both of North Charleston, S.C.
* Steven Woodcock, 31, of Bluford
* Jeffrey Newman, 44, and Kristy Matz, 39, of Carmi. They are accused of conspiring to steal benefits while Newman was in federal prison in Greenville.
* John Wayne Anderson, 30, currently incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center in Chester. Anderson was on work release from the White County Jail at the same time he told the state unemployment office that he couldn't find work.
The cases were investigated by the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations; the United States Postal Inspection Service; and the Illinois Department of Employment Security.
Katherine Lewis, special assistant U.S. Attorney, is prosecuting the case. "We've been working long hours on this investigation for several months," she said. "It has been a tremendous amount of work."
All of the 19 cases that the grand jury returned indictments against received in excess of $10,000. But, Wigginton made it clear that it does not mean he won't go after someone who fraudulently received $9,000 in benefits.
If convicted, each defendant faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 239-2503.