Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that a former unemployment insurance clerk for the State Department of Labor and Workforce Development was indicted today on charges that she stole $21,055 in unemployment benefits by using her access to the department’s computer system to redirect benefits from unemployment claims to her own bank account.
The Division of Criminal Justice obtained a state grand jury indictment charging Jeanette Rodriguez, 42, of Mount Laurel, with official misconduct (2nd degree), computer theft (2nd degree), and theft by deception (3rd degree). The charges are the result of an investigation by the New Jersey Department of Labor-Office of Internal Audit and the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau.
Between June 20, 2013 and Sept. 18, 2013, Rodriguez allegedly used her position as an unemployment insurance clerk to access the Department of Labor’s computers and fraudulently redirect a total of $21,055 in unemployment benefits from six different claims into her personal bank account. Rodriguez was terminated from her state position after the alleged thefts were uncovered in the fall of 2013 by the Department of Labor.
“In a span of just three months, this state clerk allegedly stole a very large sum of money that was intended to be used to assist New Jersey workers who had lost their jobs,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “This was a very serious breach of trust.”
“We work closely with other governmental agencies to ensure that employees who steal public funds are strictly prosecuted for their crimes,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We urge anyone with information about suspected thefts of government funds or property to alert the Division of Criminal Justice.”
“Protecting the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund from fraudsters, whether they come from outside or inside the system, has been a priority of this administration. This case is just one more example of our resolve to pursue and prosecute anyone who would pilfer from a very important safety net established for New Jersey workers,” said Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Harold J. Wirths.
Acting Attorney General Hoffman and Director Honig noted that the Division of Criminal Justice has established a toll-free Corruption Tipline 1-866-TIPS-4CJ for the public to confidentially report corruption, financial crime and other illegal activities. The public also can log on to the Division’s web page at www.njdcj.org to report suspected wrongdoing confidentially.
It is alleged that, in each case in which she diverted funds, Rodriguez temporarily entered her bank account information in the department’s computer system in place of the account information of an actual worker who filed an unemployment claim. In most instances, she allegedly diverted benefits that should have gone to the worker. However, in at least one instance, the worker had found employment but Rodriguez allegedly reactivated the claim in order to steal benefits.
Deputy Attorney General Alyssa A. Schwab presented the case to the state grand jury. The investigation was conducted for the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau by Deputy Attorney General Schwab and Detective Lynn Fitzgerald. The investigation was conducted for the Department of Labor by Jerry Calamia, Director of the Office of Internal Audit, and Fraud Investigator John Sudia.
The second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison, including five years of parole ineligibility, and a $150,000 fine. The third-degree charge carries a sentence of three to five years in state prison, including two years of parole ineligibility, and a $15,000 fine. The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The indictment was handed up to Superior Court Judge Pedro J. Jimenez Jr. in Mercer County. The case is assigned to Mercer County, where Rodriguez will be ordered to appear at a later date to be arraigned on the charges.