ELLSWORTH — A Gouldsboro woman who pleaded guilty to embezzling money from her employer has also been convicted of theft by deception for fraudulently receiving unemployment insurance payments.
Rebecca Tetlow, 37, worked and earned wages while collecting unemployment benefits in 2015 and 2016, a press release from the Maine Department of Labor stated.
The Hancock County District Attorney’s Office prosecuted the case.
District Attorney Matt Foster said Tetlow filed for unemployment benefits while working at Two Sisters Café & Deli in Prospect Harbor.
Tetlow pleaded guilty on June 30, 2017, and was sentenced to four years in the Department of Corrections (all suspended) and three years of probation. Tetlow was ordered to pay restitution to the Department of Labor in the amount of $10,484.
Tetlow may serve the four-year sentence if she fails to pay restitution, the department said.
“Collecting unemployment benefits under false pretenses is a crime. It takes money away from people who are genuinely in need,” Governor Paul LePage said in the press release. “Furthermore, fraud burdens the businesses that pay the unemployment taxes that provide the benefits. The Department of Labor has ways of identifying fraud and is actively referring cases to the district attorneys for prosecution.”
Last March, Tetlow had pleaded guilty to embezzling money from a smoked seafood business that she managed.
Tetlow was sentenced to serve three years in the Maine Department of Corrections with all but six months suspended as part of a plea agreement.
Judge Michael Roberts also ordered two years probation and restitution totaling $52,970.
The thefts occurred at Sullivan Harbor Farm in Hancock, where Tetlow had been employed for 10 years. The thefts occurred between March 1, 2013, and June 1, 2015, according to police.
Foster said he thinks restitution will be due in the Sullivan Harbor Farm theft case before the Labor Department but he hasn’t seen the court order yet.
The Department of Labor uses a number of collection processes for fraudulent claims including intercept of federal and state tax refunds, wage garnishment, lottery winnings offsets, offset of unemployment benefits and voluntary payments from debtors to recover millions of taxpayer dollars each year, the press release stated.
“Unemployment benefit fraud detection and prosecution is a priority for the department. Fraud involving principal amounts of $1,000 or more are considered felonies under Maine law and we are aggressively moving these cases to prosecution,” Maine Department of Labor Commissioner John Butera stated in the release.
In 2017, the Maine Department of Labor recovered more than $5.56 million in improper payments, including amounts from six cases which have resulted in convictions.
Currently, 125 unemployment fraud cases are pending in district attorney offices statewide.
For people claiming benefits, unemployment insurance fraud usually involves someone misrepresenting information to qualify for benefits.
Tetlow continued to claim benefits after returning to work, the department stated. In other cases, individuals might report that they are looking for work when they are not or they might report having contacted employers in their search for work that they did not actually contact. Some may file claims under false pretenses.
To identify when people receiving benefits are hired for permanent work, the department cross-matches the list of active claimants against the National Directory of New Hires and against employer-reported quarterly wage data.
On the employer side of the unemployment system, fraud includes intentional misclassification of employees as independent contractors, misreporting worker wages to avoid payment of unemployment taxes as well as a rate manipulation practice for obtaining a lower tax rate than a company’s unemployment experience would otherwise allow.
Citizens can report suspected unemployment fraud by phone, email, fax or mail; information is available at www.maine.gov/labor/unemployment/fraud.html. Tips can be kept confidential.