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State auditor cracking down on Mississippians receiving unemployment benefits

Shad White
Shad White has served as Mississippi's state auditor since 2018 (Photo courtesy of the OSA)

The Mississippi Office of the State Auditor has issued its first indictment after launching a detailed investigation into individuals receiving unemployment benefits.

State Auditor Shad White announced that Kenjarell Thomas was served with a 59-count indictment as part of Operation Payback. Thomas is charged with 19 counts of identity theft, 20 counts of fraudulent representation to defraud the government, and 20 counts of wire fraud.

According to White, Thomas was in prison while allegedly applying for unemployment benefits using multiple other prisoners’ personal information and his mother’s address to receive the payments.

“My office found that during COVID, Mississippi handed out over half a billion dollars in illegal unemployment compensation payments,” White said. “It’s tragic to think about what that money could have gone to instead. And much of it went to out-of-state fraudsters that we’ll never catch. But for the criminals who can be identified, we’re going to drop the hammer.”

Operation Payback is different from most other investigations in the state auditor’s office because of the unique data analytics tool that the team of regulators uses. With advanced machine learning, auditors can track some misspent unemployment funds and identify suspicious activity on a wider scale.

“For example, advanced software tools combed millions of unemployment compensation payments and identified perpetrators who may have close associations,” White said. “When we dug into these, it was obvious some had conspired to defraud the system.”

More indictments are expected to follow.

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