DENVER (CBS4) – There are certain conditions Coloradans have to meet to qualify for unemployment compensation. They must be able to work, be available, actively looking for employment and willing to accept suitable work.
But a CBS4 investigation has found many prisoners who aren’t allowed to receive unemployment compensation receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from the state.
Last year 161 inmates were caught by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment often by checking inmate rosters against unemployment claims and through other leads.
Joseph Borrego admitted to CBS4 he received more than $16,000 while sitting in the Boulder and Douglas County jails.
“I’m saying when times were hard I’m not going to come out of jail and be homeless,” Borrego said. “I’m not going to leave my mother homeless. I’m going to do what I have to do to survive and take care of my family.”
Inmates are able to game the system often by making a jobless claim before entering jail. Then usually with the help of an accomplice they are able to access the Department of Labor and Employment phone system. By claiming they are still eligible for unemployment insurance the money is transferred to a debit card.
“We have received tips and leads from the jails who have tape recorded conversations or videotapes of visits where an inmate may be saying please be sure that you request that unemployment benefit,” Cher Haavind told CBS4.
Borrego said the person that was helping him passed away and says he will pay the money back.
“If I have to go to jail that’s the consequences I’ve got to pay,” he said.
State records CBS4 examined also show Ronald E. Kelley collected $26,532 and Vincent Turner obtained $32,000.
Anthony Chavez is serving time for a 2007 Denver murder. The state says he got $11,000 in illegal jobless compensation. Documents allege his girlfriend helped access the phone system from the outside.
The girlfriend wasn’t home when a CBS4 went to her home to try to interview but her family members said they had no knowledge of the situation.