By Brian Haas / The Tennessean
First it was the families of dead people and state employees. Now,
authorities say Internal Revenue Service employees in Tennessee were
stealing unemployment and other benefits while fully employed.
Thursday, 13 of those employees were indicted on federal charges that
they lied to get unemployment, food stamps, welfare and housing
vouchers. An additional 11 have been indicted on state charges of theft
greater than $1,000.
In all, authorities say the workers improperly received more than $250,000 in government benefits.
got these employees that are taking advantage of the system that are so
intimate with it by virtue of their jobs," said Shelby County District
Attorney General Amy Weirech, whose office is handling the state
prosecutions. "It's doubly frustrating."
originated with the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax
Administration, a Treasury Department agency that is responsible for
oversight of the IRS. The agency in recent years has been focusing
specifically on IRS employees who illegally draw government benefits as
part of what they call "Operation Double Dip."
On Monday, for
example, federal prosecutors in Indianapolis announced convictions of
four former IRS employees in a similar scheme. In that case, employees
would properly collect unemployment while furloughed, but failed to
report when they returned to work, which should have cut off benefits.
indictments accuse the 24 employees of fraudulently obtaining those
benefits going as far back as 2006 and as recently as Dec. 31, 2012.
to the allegations in the indictment, while these IRS employees were
supposed to be serving the public, they were instead brazenly stealing
from law-abiding American taxpayers," U.S. Attorney Edward L. Stanton
III, who oversees federal prosecutions in West Tennessee, said in a
News follows audit
The indictments come just weeks after a state audit found more than
$73 million in overpayments were made by the Tennessee Department of
Labor and Workforce Development over the past several years. That audit
turned up 24 active state employees who received more than $126,000 in
unemployment benefits and seven dead people who were paid out $12,387.
The state said the majority of those cases involved fraud.
indictments were not directly connected to the state audit, said Jeff
Hentschel, spokesman for the state labor department. He said federal
investigators actually enlisted the state's help in investigating the
fraud in May 2011.
"The agency considers combating and preventing
fraudulent overpayments a top priority, as well as recouping improper
payments resulting from fraud," Hentschel said. "We will continue to
enlist the help of agencies like the OIG to assist in this effort."
identified the 13 indicted in federal court as: Angela Allison, 37;
Jessica Davis, 35; Serina Gaither, 37; Teresa Jenkins, 46; Joanne
Johnson, 46; Cynthia McKinney, 38; Angela Scales, 28; Dorothy Simmons,
35; Mary Weeks, 61; Evonna Yarbrough, 42, all of Memphis, along with
Gale Baker, 54, of Cordova; Shari House, 45, of Jackson, and Talaria
Mitchell, 35, of Southaven, Miss.
Each has been charged with
multiple counts of false statements, in violation of Section 1001 of
Title 18 of the United States Code. A conviction under that statute can
result in up to five years in prison.
Eleven other former and
current IRS employees were charged by the District Attorney General's
Office with theft of property over $1,000, a class D felony.
11 charged in state court are identified as: Raya Banks, 47; Clara
Cannon, 61; Alma Childers, 64; Cathryn Fair, 50; Robert Graves, 60;
Mechell Hampton, 35; Nicole Nickson, 39; Diane Malone, 56; Myra
Thompson, 32; Katina Thurman, 39, and Pamela Williams, 47, all of
'You would expect better,' DA says
Weirich said cases like these can erode public trust in government workers.
current and former employees, they were just bilking money from the
government, from the state and the federal government - housing,
unemployment, food stamps, welfare, all of that," she said. "You would
expect better from an IRS agent. We all expect better from all of our