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Louisiana boss, 8 workers charged for jobless benefits fraud

Baton Rouge employees can be accused of serious crimes for actions they didn't realize were illegal. While ignorance of the law is no defense against charges for white collar crimes, in the course of regular business, it is possible for a worker to be involved unwittingly in an employer's scheme. It's up to prosecutors to show that a defendant knowingly took part in fraud.

The president of a Bogalusa construction firm and eight employees of Chamico Inc. are charged with conspiracy and mail fraud. Federal prosecutors allege the head of the company, the son of the city's mayor, cheated the Louisiana Workforce Commission. The 44-year-old executive and the workers reportedly made false claims to obtain jobless benefits.

Prosecutors said the accused employees filled out forms for unemployment benefits, claiming they were not working for or getting paid by Chamico. The company president allegedly informed the commission he was unable to hire the employees because not enough work was available. Government lawyers said the employees were working and received salaries comprised of unlawful state benefits supplemented by company funds.

It was not reported how long the alleged scheme went on or how much the workforce commission lost as a result of the reported fraud. Charges of mail fraud stemmed from the defendants' use of the U.S. Postal Service to send in claim forms to the commission. Mail fraud is punishable by a prison term of up to 20 years. A conspiracy conviction could add another five years, with fines running into hundreds of thousands of dollars for each defendant.

Employer instructions to employees may not include reasons for executing tasks. Many workers don't question the duties they are assigned by a superior or they simply assume job assignments they've given are common practice. For an employee to be convicted of fraud, the government must prove that he or she was aware that fraud was being committed.

Source: The Times-Picayune, "Bogalusa mayor's son, employees indicted on federal mail fraud and conspiracy charges" Heather Nolan, Apr. 17, 2014

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