(The Center Square) – The charges keep coming for former employees of the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency.
A former unemployment examiner pleaded guilty to conspiring to steal federal unemployment insurance benefits during the Covid-19 pandemic, United States Attorney Dawn N. Ison said.
Court documents say Semaje Reffigee, 26, of Detroit, began working with the UIA in October 2020. Reffigee had electronic access to the claims database, and used her credentials to approve specific fraudulent unemployment insurance claims, including claims outside her assigned workflow.
Court documents say that shortly after she began her contract employment with UIA, Reffigee agreed with various individuals to defraud the UIA by obtaining unemployment benefits through false claims.
Reffigee’s co-conspirators electronically submitted fraudulent claims in other people’s names, some victims of identity theft and some whom were fabricated. These co-conspirators made false statements attesting to the eligibility of these purported claimants and would upload fictitious documentation to support those fraudulent claims.
The co-conspirators would then identify to Reffigee the fraudulently submitted claims so she could use her insider access to approve the claims and release benefits.
Mostly, benefits would be electronically loaded onto Bank of America debit cards and mailed to addresses controlled by Reffigee’s co-conspirators. Reffigee was often paid a “kickback” for her services, typically receiving a few hundred dollars per claim. Reffigee also unlawfully received about $9,000 in unemployment insurance benefits during her employment with UIA.
“This case reflects our ongoing commitment to prosecute those who took advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic by stealing funds intended for those in need,” Ison said in a statement. “We treat this kind of fraud especially seriously because corruption within these programs undermines trust and confidence in government programs generally.”
Reffigee pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Leitman. She is scheduled to be sentenced on July 13, 2023. She faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Per the terms of her plea agreement, Reffigee will also be required to repay $313,497 in restitution to Michigan.
Charles Miller, acting special agent in charge of the IRS-Criminal Investigation Detroit Field Office, welcomed the progress.
“Semaje Reffigee was entrusted to work for the State of Michigan. She, along with her co-conspirators, devised a scheme to steal money that was intended to provide financial assistance to those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Miller said. “IRS-CI is proud to work with our law enforcement partners as we continue the pursuit of criminals who steal from the American taxpayer.”
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ryan A. Particka and Sarah Youngblood.
This investigation is being conducted jointly by the U.S. Department of Labor Office of the Inspector General and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, with assistance from the Michigan UIA.
This article First appeared in the center square