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Law Department paralegal collected $14,250 in jobless benefits during pandemic — while working for the city, IG says

Retiring Inspector General Joe Ferguson exposed the fraud in his quarterly report released Friday.

Inspector General Joe Ferguson
Inspector General Joe Ferguson
Sun-Times file

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the Illinois Department of Employment Security has been inundated with 3.7 million unemployment claims.

One of them came from a paralegal for the Chicago Law Department who fraudulently collected $14,250 while “actively employed” by the city in a scheme that dragged on for “at least six months.”

Retiring Inspector General Joe Ferguson exposed the fraud in his quarterly report released Friday.

“The paralegal made false material representations in an application and subsequent electronic certifications of their employment to the Illinois Department of Employment Security for unemployment insurance benefits when, in fact, they were employed full time by the city,” the report stated.

“The state paid the paralegal a total of $14,250 from May 31, 2020, to November 28, 2020, and the paralegal admitted to accepting benefits into 2021.”

The Law Department moved to fire the paralegal, following Ferguson’s recommendation. But the paralegal resigned less than a week after the pre-disciplinary hearing.

The quarterly report also described yet another rip-off — totaling $12,285 — involving a customer service representative for Clarity Partners, an agency hired by City Hall to staff the city’s Utility Billing and Customer Service Contact Center.

Customers or their banks “inadvertently mailed water bill payments to different city departments” and the mail was re-routed to the billing center where the contract employee worked and was sometimes responsible for collecting and sorting mail.

“The contract employee stole some of the mail containing customers’ checks and fraudulently deposited the checks into their bank account,” the report stated.

“In less than a month, the contract employee deposited 63 checks into their bank account totaling $12,285.”

Clarity Partners fired the employee. The case was referred to the Law Department to seek cost recovery and to the state’s attorney’s office for prosecution.

In yet another case, a pipe yard foreman-turned-safety specialist for the Department of Water Management was accused of filling out four material requisition forms, falsely claiming that underlings had requested and received five “diamond saw blades” valued at $4,000.

None of the underlings requested or received the equipment. When supervisors reviewed the forms, the foreman falsely claimed that the diamond saw blades had been requested by a district superintendent. The accused employee has since been fired and placed on the do-not-hire list.

A Chicago Police Department sergeant assigned to the Marine Unit was accused of accepting a $1,000 payment from a professional diver in exchange for gaining access to the Chicago Harbor Lock to use CPD personnel and equipment to recover a lost boat propeller for the diver’s client.

The professional diver and the sergeant were described as friends who had worked together as captains on private sailing vessels for the same client, the inspector general said.

“Since private individuals are not permitted access to dive in the Chicago Harbor Lock, the sergeant used [his or her] official position to obtain authorization from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages and controls the lock chamber.

“The sergeant’s purported reason for accessing the lock chamber was to conduct a training exercise for the Marine Unit divers. On the day of the propeller recovery, the sergeant assembled a dive team consisting of three DPD Marine officers. The sergeant also equipped a CPD marine vessel with a specialized sector scan sonar to aid in locating the missing propeller.”

Ferguson recommended firing both the sergeant and a marine officer accused of filling out a fraudulent report claiming the team was in the lock chamber to conduct a “Homeland Security dive” to survey the lock chamber floor.”

The marine officer resigned before being fired. Discharge proceedings for the sergeant are still pending before the Police Board.