26 New York court employees probed for phony COVID-19 unemployment claims

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The state court system’s Inspector General is probing 26 employees who filed for unemployment during the pandemic despite getting their regular taxpayer-funded paychecks, The Post has learned.

Fraud indictments may be on the horizon, a court insider told The Post.

The alleged COVID con artists were moonlighting and filed for unemployment when they were laid off from part-time side jobs, claiming no other source of income, the source said.

Most are “court officers or clerks, clerical and court assistants” statewide, officials said. Top pay for court officers and senior court clerks in New York City is $80,000 and $88,300, respectively, before overtime.

“The truth of the matter is that these people are simply scammers looking to take advantage of a benefit meant for those who are suffering and actually lost their job due to the pandemic,” the disgusted insider fumed. “These individuals represent the sanctity of the New York State court system and should suffer the appropriate punishment for their double dealing.”

The number of people unemployed in New York peaked in July at 1.5 million and stood at about 1.2 million as of August, according to state  Labor statistics.

Unemployment payments were extended well past the traditional 26 weeks for those who lost jobs because of the pandemic.

Office of Court Administration spokesman Lucian Chalfen confirmed the probe and said investigators were originally tipped to 38 individuals.

“We were notified a month ago by the New York State Department of Labor that 38 employees had filed for unemployment benefits despite being employed by the Unified Court System. The names were sent to our Inspector General who immediately opened an investigation. To date, we have identified 26 individuals who warrant further review,” Chalfen said, adding that “about half” of those in the crosshairs work in New York City courthouses.

“We are conducting interviews and will make determinations in due course, and should we find criminality regarding the filings, we will refer the case to the appropriate District Attorney,” he added.

Chalfen would not say whether those found guilty would lose their jobs.

“They are all [union] represented so there is a process – charges, administrative hearing, recommendation to the Deputy Chief Administrative Judge … for action up to and including termination,” he said.

The court employees under probe are “still working as we investigate and interview them,” Chalfen said.

A state Department of Labor spokeswoman said, “While we cannot comment on specific cases, we’ve been made aware of this situation and are looking into it.”

So far during the pandemic, DOL said it has stopped more than $1 billion in unemployment insurance fraud and referred more than 40,000 fraudulent claims to federal prosecutors.

The DOL said it has an “institutionalized process that crosschecks employers’ quarterly wage reporting with the list of New Yorkers receiving unemployment benefits. If someone is claiming unemployment benefits and was reported as receiving wages from an employer, the issue will be investigated.”

The court insider said some believe the offenders will get a slap on the wrist, with the Labor Department forcing them to “repay the money with interest.”

“The question is, what punishment, if any, will OCA impose?” he added.

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