Colorado Attorney General, law enforcement officials and Department of Labor launch statewide task force to investigate and prosecute unprecedented unemployment insurance fraud and identity theft
March 4, 2021 (DENVER)—Together with law enforcement agencies and the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE), Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser announced today the creation of the Colorado Unemployment Fraud Task Force. The joint task force will investigate and prosecute those who have committed identity theft, and used that information to commit fraud against the state of Colorado and the unemployment insurance system.
Nationally, criminals have targeted state unemployment programs and federal extended benefit programs using stolen identities to file fraudulent claims. CDLE has been on the forefront of detecting the recent influx in fraudulent unemployment insurance claims since early on in the pandemic. The state estimates it has prevented more than 1.1 million fraudulent claims from being paid out, preventing more than $7 billion in fraudulent benefit payments since the beginning of the pandemic.
“Our top priority has been to identify the fraud, prevent it, and release any benefits owed to legitimate claimants,” said Joe Barela, executive director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. “We have tripled the size of our criminal investigative team since the start of the pandemic, with another set of hiring right now. We are eager to share resources and expertise in this formal partnership with the Attorney General and our state law enforcement agencies to begin prosecuting these individuals and hold them accountable. With the task force dedicated to prosecution, we can continue to focus on helping the hundreds of thousands of Coloradans who are legitimately eligible for state and federal unemployment benefits.”
The attorney general asked Colorado’s district attorneys to play a key leadership role on the task force. The Colorado District Attorneys Council, representing the state’s 22 district attorneys, has endorsed this effort and is providing representatives to the task force. District Attorney Alexis King from the First Judicial District (Jefferson and Gilpin counties), District Attorney Henry Solano from the 3rd Judicial District (Huerfano and Las Animas counties), and District Attorney Jeff Cheney from the 9th Judicial District (Garfield, Pitkin and Rio Blanco counties) will serve on the task force.
“The Colorado Attorney General’s Office and the state’s district attorneys are in a unique position to assume a statewide leadership role in investigating and prosecuting cases of pervasive fraud against the state’s unemployment insurance program and the identity theft that has affected thousands of Coloradans since the beginning of the pandemic. This unprecedented amount of fraud and theft requires a coordinated and comprehensive statewide response, so that wrongdoers can be identified and held accountable,” said Attorney General Weiser.
District attorneys will partner with the attorney general to review, charge, and prosecute fraud and identity theft cases. Completed investigations from a single judicial district or that involve individual actors will be referred to the local district attorney where the individual resides or where the fraud or identity theft crimes occurred. Statewide cases, which are complex and involve multiple jurisdictions, will be prosecuted by the Special Prosecutions Unit in the Criminal Justice Division of the attorney general’s office in conjunction with the district attorney in the judicial district where the cases are ultimately filed and prosecuted. The attorney general’s office may initiate investigations through the statewide grand jury.
“On behalf of all of the state’s district attorneys, CDAC commends the attorney general’s office for establishing this task force and looks forward to collaborating with our partners to address the unprecedented fraud our state’s unemployment system has experienced over the past year,” said CDAC Executive Director Tom Raynes.
Under the current task force plan, CDLE will serve as the primary investigative partner with key support from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which is skilled at conducting large investigations and cultivating and managing vast amounts of data. “The CBI is pleased to partner with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office and the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to aggressively investigate those who seek to profit from the hardships that this pandemic has caused for so many of our citizens,” said CBI Director John Camper. Investigators in local district attorney offices may also serve as a resource for CDLE to facilitate investigations, especially in Colorado’s rural jurisdictions.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado has invited the task force to refer cases suitable for federal prosecution, including those with perpetrators outside of Colorado. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is also working to help enlist investigative assistance from federal agencies to address this fraud.
This task force plans to hold its first meeting in the coming days to review the status of the investigations and to begin the staffing of potential cases for eventual prosecution.
Coloradans who believe that someone used their information to file a fraudulent unemployment insurance claim should visit ColoradUI.gov to file a report.