ILLINOIS -- A new investigation found more than 1,000 people took unemployment checks in the past year, even though they were incarcerated. WCIA-3's Ashley Michels finds out how much of our money they made off with.
State officials say they were shocked to find nearly $2 million in fraud. But, they say it's really a good thing because now they know how to stop it and can make sure money only goes to those who really are in need.
James Opremchak knows all about hard work.
"I've been a small engine mechanic most of my life."
But the hard part was when that came to an end.
"I lost my job and was on unemployment for a little over a year."
He says it wasn't much, but couldn't have survived without it.
"It's not like a paycheck, not even close. You have to watch what you're doing and try to make the money go as far as you can."
That's why he's so upset to hear people are cheating the system.
"Does it make you mad?"
"Yeah, it does irritate me. That's not right."
The state started cross-checking jail records with jobless claims this summer. They found 1,100 inmates took more than $2 million in benefits statewide.
Most are near Chicago, but 18 in Champaign County took more than $30,000. In Macon County, 15 people got checks tallying more than $50,000.
"The state does require check-ins every two weeks to make sure you still qualify, but that's as easy as a phone call or the click of a mouse."
Leaders say local officials couldn't have stopped it and that sometimes it was just a case of bad timing. Either way, they plan to get the money back and say this is a big win in the fight against fraud.
State leaders also say they're going to take the inmates tax returns to pay back the debt. Some of the bigger offenders will also face charges.
Original: 10:05 pm, 10/9/12, Wednesday
COOK COUNTY-- Hundreds of Illinois inmates are improperly collecting unemployment benefits. The Chicago Tribune reports that more than $2 million in benefits was handed out last year.
Most of the recipients are in Cook County where they collected more than $700,000. Inmates in Will, Winnebago, Lake and Peoria counties collected nearly $320,000.
State leaders are now deciding which inmates to prosecute. They'll also take money from inmates' tax returns.