Ten Broward County residents were indicted on charges of accepting fraudulent unemployment insurance benefits from the state of Florida, a press release from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said. Haley K. Barnett, 34; Jennifer E. Weissman, 37; Reyna Duarte-Valles, 49; Linda Ann Phillips, 40; Clarence Calvin Griffin, 66; Victoria Ordunez, 40; Gina Diane Innocent, 41; Robert Ray Orange, 46; Arnold Joseph Michel, 52; Randy Millard, 50 all stand accused. The defendants are charged with federal mail and wire fraud, which stems from the defendants procurement of fraudulent unemployment insurance benefits from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. It is unclear whether any of the accused have qualified for bail bond or has retained a private criminal defense attorney.
Reports say that the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, formerly known as the Agency for Workforce Innovation, monitors and manages the distribution of unemployment benefits from the Unemployment Compensation Program, which serves the state of Florida. The program is meant to help persons who were lost their jobs and are looking for new ones. In order to qualify for unemployment benefits, a Florida citizen has to be unwillingly unemployed, searching for a new job, prepared to work should a job position open up, and qualify for a set wage requisites from their previous job.
The Department has many safeguards in place to ensure that only qualified applicants receive the benefits. If a subject qualifies for unemployment benefits, they can sign up though an application. The applicant can fill out the application in person at a career center or over the Internet, but the information they put down must be accurate. They are also required to verify that the information is correct on a bi-monthly basis in order to prove that they are still entitled to the state-issued benefits. Before an unemployment payment is sent, it must be verified through Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, and then sent through the Department of Financial Services via a check delivered by mail or a bank transfer into the beneficiaries bank account.
Investigators accuse the defendants in this case of falsifying information to make it appear as though they qualified for unemployment benefits when, in fact, they did not. According to reports, the state of Florida allegedly overpaid each defendant anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000 in fraudulent benefits. The details of each case have not yet been released, but most of the defendants are likely accused of posing and unemployed while actually receiving income from undisclosed sources.
Sources say that the alleged fraud was uncovered during a federal operation known as “Operation Double Dip,” which targets people who attempt to defraud the state of Florida’s public service sectors, such as the state’s unemployment compensation branch. In 2011, Operation Double Dip uncovered another alleged case of fraud in Miami-Dade County, reports say. In that operation, twelve Florida residents were charged with defrauding the Miami-Dade Housing Agency and the U.S. Housing Market out of an excess of $300,000. One suspect was a property landlord accused of gathering rent payments that exceeded the agreed price he had with the Miami-Dade Housing Agency.