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Tag Archive | "U.S. Secret Service"

State contractor charged in $2 million unemployment fraud scheme


A Detroit woman was charged in a criminal complaint for her alleged role in a multimillion-dollar unemployment insurance fraud scheme aimed at defrauding the State of Michigan and the U.S. Government of funds earmarked for unemployment assistance during the COVID19 pandemic, announced United States Attorney Matthew Schneider.

Joining in the announcement were Irene Lindow, Special Agent-in-Charge, Chicago Region, U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General; Special Agent in Charge Douglas J. Zloto, US Secret Service; Richard Sheehan, Acting Postal Inspector in Charge of the Detroit Division; Special Agent in Charge Steven M. D’Antuono, Federal Bureau of Investigation; Special Agent in Charge Sarah Kull, Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation; and Jeffrey Frost, Special Fraud Advisor, Michigan Dept. of Labor and Economic Opportunity, Unemployment Insurance Agency.

Charged is Brandi Hawkins, 39.

According to the complaint, Hawkins was a contract employee for the State of Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency.  Her duties included reviewing, processing and verifying the legitimacy of unemployment insurance claims.

Beginning in April of 2020, it is alleged that Hawkins used her insider access to fraudulently release payment on hundreds of fraudulent claims.  Hawkins’ actions resulted in the fraudulent disbursement of over $2,000,000 of federal and state funds intended for unemployment assistance during the pandemic. Over $200,000 in cash was seized from her residence during a search warrant. Hawkins is alleged to have used proceeds from her crimes to purchase high-end handbags and other luxury goods.

”Brandi Hawkins is charged with exploiting the current pandemic to defraud the State of Michigan and United States for her own personal gain,” said U. S. Attorney Matthew Schneider. “These are serious allegations, and my office is committed to prosecuting any person who attempts to use the Covid-19 crisis to defraud the people of Michigan.” 

“The U.S. Secret Service is currently focused on criminals attempting to exploit the American people during these unprecedented times of record unemployment due to the pandemic,” said Douglas Zloto, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Secret Service – Detroit Field Office. “It is especially egregious when someone in a position of trust, working for an agency created to assist the residents of the State of Michigan, takes advantage of those during their time of need. We will continue to work with our federal and state partners to bring these perpetrators to justice.” 

Irene Lindow, Special Agent-in-Charge, Chicago Region, U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, also made a statement. “An important mission of the Office of Inspector General is to investigate allegations of fraud related to unemployment insurance benefit programs. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to protect the integrity of unemployment insurance benefit programs,” she said.

“Brandi Hawkins’ alleged actions are incredibly selfish and without regard for her fellow Michiganders in dire need of financial assistance,” said Sarah Kull, IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge, Detroit Field Office.  “IRS-CI will not hesitate to thoroughly investigate any COVID19 related fraud and bring those offenders to justice.”

Richard Sheehan, Acting Postal Inspector in Charge of the Detroit Division said, “This investigation was an excellent example of a partnership between federal law enforcement agencies, working together to bring down this fraud conspiracy. I fully commend the hard work and countless hours put forth by all of the agencies involved, which resulted in bringing Brandi Hawkins to justice.”

“We appreciate U.S. Attorney Schneider‘s quick action to bring this case to justice. The Unemployment Insurance Agency will continue to work closely with state and federal partners to identify unemployment fraud that can be quickly turned over to law enforcement for prosecution,” stated Jeffrey Frost, Special Fraud Advisor, Michigan Dept. of Labor and Economic Opportunity, Unemployment Insurance Agency.

A complaint is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt.  Trial cannot be held on felony charges in a complaint.  When the investigation is completed a determination will be made whether to seek a felony indictment.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Timothy Wyse. The investigation is being conducted jointly by the Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, United States Secret Service, Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation, Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Unemployment Insurance Agency, Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.

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Attorney general speaks to Cedar Springs students


 

Michigan State Attorney General Bill Schuette with Cedar Springs students.

Cedar Springs students team with Schuette, Michigan State Police to tackle bullying, violence

By Judy Reed

Students walk the hallways at school every day carrying weights that others know nothing about. Some are victims of physical abuse, either at home or at school; some are being bullied by their peers; some are victims of sexting or date rape; and others feel like failures and are contemplating suicide or violence.

Cedar Springs High School and Middle School students kicked off a program last Thursday, April 14, that gives students a way to report and stop bullying and violence.

State Attorney General Bill Schuette was on hand, along with the Michigan State Police and local law enforcement, to kick off the OK2SAY program, a student safety initiative that enables students to confidentially report criminal activities or potential harm directed at students, school employees, and schools. Leaders from numerous community groups were also on hand for the presentation.

Since its inception in 2014, students have submitted more than 3,700 tips across the State of Michigan. Bullying, cyber bullying, self-harm, and suicide are the categories that receive the most tips. Other categories that receive tips include: drug use, weapon possession, and assault.

Based on research from the U.S. Secret Service, in 81 percent of violent incidents in U.S. schools, someone other than the attacker had knowledge of the attacker’s plan but failed to report it.

“OK2SAY is about communication, early intervention, and prevention,” said Michigan State Police Inspector Matt Bolger. “When students make the courageous decision to break the code of silence and speak out against harmful behavior, they equip authorities with the information needed to respond to threats and avert tragedy. That’s a good thing for Michigan schools, communities, and families.”

The goal of OK2SAY is to stop harmful behavior before it occurs by encouraging students (or adults) to report threatening behavior to caring adult authorities who can help. They can confidentially submit tips anytime by using the OK2SAY mobile app, online, email, texting, or by calling trained program technicians. Upon receipt of a tip, specially trained OK2SAY technicians address the immediate need and forward the information to the appropriate responding law enforcement agency or organization. Tips go to schools, local law enforcement agencies, community mental health agencies or the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Schuette told the students and The Post that it is about changing the culture from “don’t be a snitch” to “it’s ok to communicate to save a life.”

“OK2SAY has made a difference. We are stopping violence in its tracks and making school a safer place for our kids,” said Schuette. “Credit for the program’s success is directly attributable to the thousands of student ‘heroes in the hallway’ who stepped up and took ownership of their roles in keeping their schools and classmates safe.”

“The thing that struck me about the program, is that it has saved lives,” Schuette told the Post. “It’s not perfect. But what we have done is reached out to say, here is an opportunity to help people stop bullying, to stop a weapon being brought to school. It’s tech friendly, confidential. It can be done without fear of intimidation,” he explained.

Students have several ways they can communicate a tip to authorities. They can download and use the mobile app for either iPhone or android; they can call 1-8-555-OK2SAY, 1-855-565-2729; Text: 652729 (OK2SAY); they can email ok2say@mi.gov; or visit the Web: www.ok2say.com fill out an online form.

Attorney General Schuette honored Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, Jo Spry, with a special license plate in a frame that reads “OK2SAY.”

Attorney General Schuette honored Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, Jo Spry, with a special license plate in a frame that reads “OK2SAY.” Photo by J. Reed.

The state program, which started in fall 2014, just happened to be inspired by our current Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, Jo Spry, before she came to Cedar Springs. Spry, who grew up in Greenville, was a principal at a school in Colorado, during the years after the attack at Columbine. Colorado adopted a program called “Safe to Tell,” and Spry said they adopted it at her high school in the Woodland Park District. “I knew the impact it had. It was a way for students to have that voice. They are not always comfortable coming forward,” she explained.

When Spry came home to Michigan, and settled in Cadillac, she began to work with legislators, the attorney general’s office, and community organizations to adopt a similar program here in Michigan. “I didn’t run across anyone who didn’t want it,” she said.

Schuette honored Spry during the program with a special license plate in a frame that reads “OK2SAY.” Spry did not know that was going to happen.

“It’s truly a passion of mine to make sure students in all of our schools are safe,” said Spry. “OK2SAY is a wonderful program, and I will be eternally grateful to the legislators, community groups and the attorney general that stepped up to see it through.”

Schuette explained that he does not often get to go to the kickoff of the programs. “We have a team of 35 of us that do this, and I go when I can,” he said. He seemed visibly pleased with the turnout of the crowd and the way that the program was embraced. “I think from the moment I walked in, and saw everyone, it was powerful and uplifting. It’s really a powerful tool. The more we can communicate this and get it out there, the better it will be.”

“School should be a safe and welcoming place for all students,” said Dr. Laura VanDuyn, Superintendent. “Cedar Springs Schools are committed to a bully-free environment. We are grateful that the Attorney General choose to visit our school to address our students and encourage them to step up and do the right thing.”

Attorney General Schuette poses with the new peer listening club. Photo by J. Reed.

Attorney General Schuette poses with the new peer listening club. Photo by J. Reed.

OK2SAY is not the only program being implemented to help students. The anti-bullying program in use at the elementary level, “Be Nice” is being moved up to secondary level, and a new peer listening club has been formed. The group was formed after senior Jessica Durrell heard about the program at a youth group she attended. She brought it back to her Rotary Interact Leadership group (another new program at the high school this year) and the peer listening group spun off into it’s own group. It is made up of nine members—six girls and three boys—who can listen to other students as needed during the day. “They will listen to peers who need to vent, talk about stressors, academics, etc.,” explained Dr. VanDuyn. “They are there to listen, not give advice.” Counselor volunteers have trained all the students.

For more information on OK2SAY, visit www.ok2say.com.

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