Investigators: State worker got unemployment while still employed, hijacked other legitimate accounts
A state contract employee claimed to be unemployed and collected unemployment benefits while working at the state Unemployment Insurance Agency, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
Autumn Mims also opened bank accounts and processed fraudulent unemployment claims under the names of unsuspecting third parties after she was hired by the agency in August 2020.
"In other words, Mims is using her access to facilitate the fraudulent 'take over' of legitimate UI accounts," according to the complaint filed in Mims' case last week.
The 28-year-old Birmingham, Michigan woman was charged with wire fraud, wire fraud conspiracy and aggravated identity theft.
"These charges show our continued commitment to prosecuting those who attempt to use the COVID-19 crisis to steal taxpayer funds and fraudulently enrich themselves," Acting U.S. Attorney Saima Mohsin said in a statement.
Mims appears to be the 13th individual to face federal charges in relation to alleged unemployment fraud. Separately, state Attorney General Dana Nessel's office is investigating another dozen cases for potential fraud charges.
Auditors last year estimated fraudsters compromised "hundreds of millions" of dollars in state unemployment claims during the pandemic as the Unemployment Insurance Agency sought to balance the speedy payment of thousands of claims from laid-off individuals with security concerns that would eventually prove legitimate. The total amount of fraudulent claims still is being determined.
As of late June, the state had paid out a total of $36.5 billion in state and federal unemployment aid to about 3.35 million claimants since March 15, 2020.
According to the complaint in her case, Mims took over legitimate claimant accounts by changing the individual's authentication email addresses, passwords and bank account information. She then certified additional claims under the unemployment account and diverted the payments to the new bank account, investigators said.
When the state fraud detection software flagged Mims' actions as possible fraud, Mims accessed the legitimate account and dismissed the fraud investigation and verification requests, her complaint said.
Federal authorities believe thousands of dollars in fraudulent pandemic unemployment assistance was processed through the scheme, including nearly $15,000 under Mims' own name and about $40,000 under the names of two legitimate claimants who knew nothing of the scheme.
Mims was collecting unemployment before she started working for the state in August, investigators said, but continued to collect it "while gainfully employed by the very agency responsible for administering the benefit."
Federal and state investigators began looking into Mims' activity in June and issued a search warrant on June 30 at a Birmingham home where they seized "significant evidence of UI fraud." At the time of the July 1 complaint, Mims was still employed by the agency.
The agency said Thursday that Mims is no longer employed by the state.