By Karen Morfitt

DENVER (CBS4) – The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment may have paid more than $73 million in fraudulent unemployment claims, according to a new state audit.

The report found payments were made to people in prison, people who were deceased and some not old enough to work.

According to the report, CDLE saw more than 1,000% increase in claims during the first year of the pandemic, and while it likely contributed to some of the issues, the audit shows there were no procedures in place for responding to claimant concerns.

“Some people are still fighting,” Erin Joy Swank said.

Swank was among those trying to navigate the system from the beginning and now uses her experience to help thousands of others — many who struggled to get the assistance they needed from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

“People weren’t getting paid and sometimes they were told they needed to pay it back some people spent months trying to get that fraud released,” Swank said.

A state audit of that unemployment system over the last year shows CDLE was understaffed, had trouble answering calls and even now doesn’t have a system in place to handle, investigate or resolve complaints.

State Rep. Colin Larson is on the legislative audit committee.

“Not having internal measures or controls to check whether things were addressed or if a complaint was resolved is just total mismanagement,” Larson said.

The report says of the complaints they were able to find, between the call center and an online form, 82% of them were not resolved.

Swank says for those who need help fast, it adds to an already lengthy process.

“It seems to take weeks, months, even a new standard non-fraud related claim is taking 6 to 8 weeks. If you have any issue on top of that it’s even longer,” she said.

A representative from the CDLE who spoke at the committee hearing says they will be putting together new procedures for handling complaints. He said they have already moved away from the call center contractor they were working with a plan to handle everything in house but have had trouble hiring the necessary staff.

Karen Morfitt