(The Center Square) – Four years post-pandemic, a Detroit resident was sentenced for stealing unemployment benefits and ordered to pay $583,409 in restitution.
Autumn Mims, 31, was sentenced to five years and five months in prison by United States District Judge Mark A. Goldsmith after having pleaded guilty to engaging in aggravated identity theft and conspiring to engage in wire fraud. Co-defendant William Haynes, 27, will be sentenced next month.
Mims worked for the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency where she reviewed, processed and verified the legitimacy of unemployment insurance claims.
Mims and Haynes admitted to conspiring together to obtain illegitimate benefits issued in the names of third parties.
Court records say the two used insider access to fraudulently process claims in the names of third parties without their knowledge or authorization, created fake bank accounts in the names of other people and withdrew cash reserved for Michiganders who were out of work.
Mims obtained unemployment benefits while working for the agency, for which she wasn’t eligible. At the same time, the two committed fraud by taking money funded by taxpayers and business taxes.
Agency Director Julia Dale said the scheme “tarnished” the agency’s pandemic work during record-high unemployment. From March 2020 to December 2022, the agency paid $40 billion in compensation to 2.5 million people.
However, more than 2,300 people intentionally misrepresented themselves to receive funds and at least 158 people were charged with unemployment fraud.
“She does not by any stretch reflect the outstanding work habits of UIA’s professional employees, who abide by strict ethics and security clearance policies,” Dale said in a statement. “I am proud of the dedication demonstrated every day in service to their fellow Michiganders and employers. UIA will continue to work with law enforcement at the local, state, and federal level to ensure that bad actors are brought to justice.”
United States Attorney Dawn Ison welcomed the charges.
“We remain committed to prosecuting those who choose to enrich themselves by stealing government funds earmarked for those members of our community who are truly in need,” Ison said in a statement.
Special Agent in Charge Cheyvoryea Gibson of the FBI in Michigan said the action was a “betrayal of the public trust…”
“The defendant’s decision to conspire in order to obtain unlawful uninsurance benefits for personal profit while businesses and families were struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic is unconscionable,” Gibson said in a statement. “Further, Ms. Mims’ actions were a direct betrayal of the public trust granted to her as a contract Unemployment Insurance Examiner for the State of Michigan. Providing false information and using stolen identities to fraudulently gain access to relief funds is a theft of taxpayer money.”