Joshua Harwood made doing time pay – until he got caught.
The 35-year-old Georgetown man was convicted of theft by deception for fraudulently receiving thousands of dollars in unemployment insurance payments while he was incarcerated.
Harwood was convicted on July 30 in Sagadahoc County Superior Court.
Julie Rabinowitz, a spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Labor, said Harwood will be required to pay $9,212 in restitution as a result. That figure includes interest and penalties. The average weekly unemployment benefit paid to an individual is $280.
Harwood was sentenced to 2½ years in prison with all but 30 days suspended. He also was placed on probation for two years, Rabinowitz said.
The case was actively pursued by the Department of Labor working in conjunction with the Sagadahoc County District Attorney’s Office, according to a statement issued Tuesday by the department.
“Our recent fraud convictions send a strong message to people who abuse our unemployment system,” Gov. Paul LePage said in a statement. “Unemployment fraud hurts the safety net that protects workers who are laid off through no fault of their own. Fraud burdens the businesses that pay unemployment taxes to fund the benefits. Keeping money in the trust fund lowers taxes and preserves benefits for people who need them.”
The state has recovered more than $87,000 in fraudulent payments through court actions in 2014. There are currently 92 fraud cases pending in Maine courts, according to the Department of Labor.
Rabinowitz was unable to say which county jail or state prison facility housed Harwood when he was filing for unemployment benefits.
Sagadahoc County District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau confirmed Tuesday night that Harwood’s theft by deception case was prosecuted by his office, but he was unable to provide additional details. Harwood’s case was referred to the district attorney’s office in October.
Rabinowitz was not familiar with the particulars of Harwood’s fraud scheme, but speculated he may have been receiving unemployment benefits before being incarcerated.
“There is a likelihood that there was some unemployment history before he went to prison,” she said.
Unemployment applicants can apply for benefits in person, by telephone, mail or online, Rabinowitz said.
After being approved for benefits, recipients must file for benefits on a weekly basis and certify that they were available for work and actively searching for work.
Rabinowitz said the state implemented a prisoner cross-match database system two years ago that allows it to identify inmates who are receiving or trying to apply for unemployment benefits.
In July, Tracy Young, 49, of Portland was convicted of theft by deception for fraudulently receiving unemployment insurance payments, according to the Department of Labor. Young worked and earned wages while collecting unemployment benefits. Young paid $2,587 in restitution.
“Fraud prosecution and prevention is a priority for the department,” Maine Labor Commissioner Jeanne Paquette said in a statement. “In the past two years we’ve improved our reporting systems. We now receive information from employers faster and perform better cross-matches against employment and other databases, including people who are incarcerated, to identify potential fraud. These efforts are paying off and send a strong message.”