A Nyack woman was among seven people who pleaded guilty Thursday to collecting unemployment insurance benefits while working for the U.S. Postal Service.
Kelly Williams, 36, became angry when reached by a reporter Thursday and hung up the phone when asked about her guilty plea, in which she admitted illegally collecting $16,605 in unemployment benefits, according to federal prosecutors and the state Department of Labor.
Williams and six others entered guilty pleas and were among a much larger overall group believed to have been given collectively more than $425,000 in unemployment checks from 2009 to last year, despite working as letter carriers, mail processing clerks and in other postal service positions, prosecutors said. Williams worked in a New City postal facility, according to records.
Williams' haul was second only to Erin Gagnon, a 37-year-old Plattsburgh woman who admitted stealing $26,218. Williams, Gagnon and the others lied on applications for unemployment benefits, prosecutors said.
The seven postal workers were caught by the labor department's Major Case Unit, which uses "innovative data mining" and federal wage data to identify people who have jobs yet collect unemployment benefits. In the scam, the workers collected unemployment benefits while they were employed by the U.S. Postal Service.
Stealing unemployment benefits is particularly damaging, the state Department of Labor said, because employers and taxpayers must pay out more to the state's Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund to cover the losses -- and because money paid out to scammers like Williams increases the chances that people who genuinely need the assistance won't get it.
"Gov. [Andrew M.] Cuomo and the Department of Labor have a zero-tolerance policy on unemployment insurance fraud, especially when it's committed by government employees who should be serving taxpayers, not stealing from them," said Peter M. Rivera, commissioner of the state Department of Labor.
To report government employees who collect unemployment benefits while they're duly employed, call the state Department of Labor's fraud hotline at 888-598-2077.