AUBURN — Serving jail time for a drunken-driving arrest or sitting in a cell awaiting trial for drug-dealing, robbery or murder ought to prevent you from receiving unemployment benefits.

That was what Androscoggin County Sheriff Guy Desjardins figured when he saw a newspaper story about a Georgetown man, Joshua Harwood, who was sentenced to two and a half years in prison and more than $9,200 in restitution for fraud. He collected the money — unemployment benefits — while he was incarcerated, according to the Maine Department of Labor.

Desjardins read the story and wondered if any Androscoggin County Jail inmates might be collecting the benefit, banned for inmates because eligibility comes only with availability for work.

“If it’s one or two percent, you’re looking at a couple of grand a week,” said Desjardins, whose jail population has been surging past 150 most days.

On Friday, his office sent the names, birthdays and Social Security numbers of every inmate to the Department of Labor. He plans to continue the reporting every week.

“I thought of that and said, ‘I can’t believe we’re not doing it,'” said Desjardins, who was unsure whether he would help the state catch any cases of fraud.


“I’m plugging a hole,” he said.

It’s a hole that’s been around a while.

The Maine Department of Labor’s Bureau of Unemployment Compensation has been working for about seven years to get numbers from all 15 county jails via “informal arrangements,” department spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz said.

However, the work has been inconsistent and may have been done without the knowledge of sheriffs and jail administrators, she said.

“We do not know how high up the contact/permission goes,” she wrote in an email to the Sun Journal. “We are just happy to have the information.”

Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty said he has been sharing the information on a weekly basis for almost a year. Piscataquis County has been sending out daily reports, said David Harmon, administrator of its jail.


Others, like Desjardins, never thought of looking for unemployment fraud in their jails.

Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross said his office regularly sends information to other agencies — including the Social Security Administration and the Maine Department of Health and Human Services — but hadn’t thought of the Department of Labor. Neither had Mark Westrum, the administrator of Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset, which handles inmates from Sagadahoc, Lincoln and Waldo counties.

The Department of Labor declined to say whether they have caught any cases of fraud from the inmate data at the jails.

Rabinowitz said it’s uncommon.

“The vast majority of unemployment fraud is from people who are collecting unemployment but have gone back to work,” she said. Her department routinely checks its beneficiaries against the National Directory of New Hires. The department also receives lists of inmates from Maine prisons

This year, the amount of fraudulent payments recovered through prosecution totals more than $87,000, with about $23,000 having been collected in August alone, said the department in a news release. It has another 92 fraud cases pending with Maine district attorneys.


People who collect unemployment benefits must submit requests every week. However, it can be done by mail, online or over the phone, making it ripe for abuse by anyone who is either off the grid or willing to share a personal identification number with a friend or family member.

For Desjardins, compiling the names of inmates and sending them to the state is a relatively easy chore.

“If we catch one person, it’s worth it,” he said.

Westrum, the former chairman of the Maine Board of Corrections, agreed.

Though he’d never considered the need for such reporting, he contacted the Department of Labor on Thursday and added his jail to the roster of jails submitting inmate information.

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