Group of Georgia lawmakers want criminal probe into unremitted funds

(The Center Square) — A group of Democratic Georgia lawmakers is calling for a criminal probe after the Georgia Department of Labor discovered more than $105.1 million in unremitted funds.

Last week, following an internal audit, the labor department said it returned the funds to the state treasury. Officials said the funds began accumulating in fiscal 2014 under the previous labor commissioner and were discovered as part of an investigation into “fraud and unemployment insurance system vulnerabilities.”

Labor Commissioner Bruce Thompson authorized the transfer of the funds to the Georgia Department of Treasury on Aug. 3.

“The attorney general of Georgia must open an investigation into how the former commissioner was able to accumulate more than $105 million in unremitted funds,” state Rep. Rhonda Burnough, D-Riverdale, said in an announcement. “This internal audit proves that the former Georgia labor commissioner was mismanaging the department, and it would not surprise me if he deliberately withheld unemployment payments from Georgians in their time of need. He also failed to update technology and install a communications system to address the backlog of unemployment claims.”

State Reps. Viola Davis, D-Stone Mountain; Kim Schofield, D-Atlanta; and Sandra Scott, D-Rex, joined Burnough in calling for a criminal investigation. The lawmakers sent letters to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr requesting the probe.

The disclosure followed a series of state and federal fraud indictments.

Earlier this month, officials announced that a Fulton County grand jury indicted eight former state employees on unemployment insurance fraud charges. In November, the feds announced charges against eight people for conspiring to defraud the Georgia DOL out of tens of millions of dollars in federal funds for unemployment benefits.

Representatives for several Georgia officials — Gov. Brian Kemp and Carr  — did not respond to a request for comment.

“The Georgia Department of Labor will be fully cooperative and work in concert with the Georgia Attorney General’s Office, the Georgia Office of the Inspector General, the Georgia General Assembly, and other authorities to restore the public’s trust and bring to light any concerns that exist within the agency,” said Commissioner Bruce Thompson in a statement to The Center Square.

By T.A. DeFeo | The Center Square contributor

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