IRS workers accused of stealing jobless benefits and welfare

IRS workers accused of stealing jobless benefits and welfare
Two dozen Tennessee-based IRS workers have been accused of fraudulently obtaining unemployment benefits, food stamps, welfare and housing vouchers, illegally receiving a total of $250,000 in government benefits.

The thefts occurred while the workers were fully employed at the Internal Revenue Service. The fraudsters were caught as part of an ongoing investigation called “Operation Double Dip”, in which the IRS tries to catch employees who steal government benefits.

“You’ve got these employees that are taking advantage of the system that they are so intimate with it by virtue of their jobs,” Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirech told The Tennessean. “It’s doubly frustrating.”

Thirteen employees have been indicted on federal charges that they lied to fraudulently get the benefits, and are facing up to five years in prison for making false statements. The 11 other employees have been indicted on state charges for theft of more than $1,000 each, and each face a felony sentence that can result in 12 years imprisonment.

“While these IRS employees were supposed to be serving the public, they were instead brazenly stealing from law-abiding American taxpayers,”
US Attorney Edward Stanton told the Associated Press in a statement.

“The taxes that we pay are supposed to support our nation and assist individuals in need, not free-loaders who are gaming the system,” Weirich, whose office is handling the prosecutions, told the newswire.

The 24 indicted IRS workers range in ages from 28 to 64 and originate from Tennessee and Mississippi.

Operation Double Dip recently also discovered that the state of Tennessee has overpaid unemployment benefits by $73.4 million over the past six years, which is drawn from a Department of Labor and Workforce Development trust that employers pay into. IRS investigators also found that seven deceased Tennesseans had received a total of $12,387 – most of which were fraudulent payments. For the fiscal year that ended last June, the state reported an overpayment rate of 14.9 percent – which ranks it among the top US states with the highest number of fraudulent unemployment benefit claims and payments.

After auditing the state of Tennessee and discovering the overpayments, investigators discovered the 24 state employees who received the $126,000 in fraudulent unemployment benefits.

“Both 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,” Weirich told the Tennessean. “You would expect better from an IRS agent. We all expect better from all of our government employees.”

But fraudulent refunds are not limited to the state of Tennessee: the IRS reported losing $5.2 billion to identity thieves in the fiscal year 2011, failing to detect as many as 1.5 million false tax returns and fraudulent refunds. With the high rate of identity theft and with IRS employees falsely claiming benefits, the agency has a plethora of crime to tackle if it hopes to minimize its tax gap.