Nineteen residents of the Metro East and southern Illinois have been charged with stealing money from the state and federal unemployment insurance programs.
The 12 men and 7 women are accused of stealing a total of $368,000 in benefits. Two of those charged were incarcerated while receiving benefits, and 17 others were employed.
"It personally disgusts me at the number of American citizens who want to steal from programs that are there to help the poor, the needy, the sick and the frail," said the US Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, Stephen Wigginton, as he announced the indictments on Friday. He said the alleged crimes were probably motivated by greed.
Benefits fraud is not unique to Illinois. Six Missouri residents were also indicted Friday on similar charges, and Wigginton says nationwide, there were $14 billion in fraudulent unemployment claims filed in fiscal year 2011.
"Most of the money goes to paying benefits, and not to enforcement or protection," Wigginton said. "We need a bigger slice of the pie going to enforcement and protection of these funds so that we can hire additional agents that will be able to go out and investigate."
If convicted, the 19 face 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Wigginton says he’ll also seek restitution.