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Governor’s Address: The Attorney General Does Not Place a High Priority on Fighting Fraud

One of my proudest accomplishments has been the dramatic reduction of fraud in our welfare and unemployment systems. Unfortunately, the Attorney General does not consider fraud a high a priority.

The anti-fraud efforts of the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services have produced results. DHHS has been aggressively cracking down on welfare fraud. In 2011, when I first took office, DHHS only sent 32 cases to the Attorney General for prosecution. In 2015, we sent 105.

To date, we’ve sent 488 welfare fraud cases for prosecution. Of these, 137 are still pending. Democrats used to say that fraud in the welfare system is just anecdotal. You don’t hear that anymore – 488 cases in eight years isn’t an anecdote.

The volume of cases DHHS refers has forced the AG’s office to only prosecute felony-level cases with fraud allegations in excess of $5,000. We should prosecute every case.

The Department of Labor identifies hundreds of fraudulent unemployment payments each year. But only the few cases where people haven’t cooperated or repaid the money are sent for prosecution.

That’s good, because once it’s identified for prosecution, there’s no guarantee it will be prosecuted. The year I took office, DAs refused all 23 unemployment fraud cases.

Since 2011, Labor’s identified more than 350 cases for prosecution. As of early October, the Department had 139 fraud prosecutions pending action on DA’s desks – some sitting there for two years. 

The involvement of DAs and threat of prosecution are critical in fighting fraud. Recently, a DA’s involvement resulted in a fraudster paying $45,000 in restitution back to the Department of Labor.

Yet, since 2011, DAs have refused to prosecute about 10 percent of the 350 fraud cases. Even worse: in two counties the DAs won’t prosecute fraud cases; the others take so few that another 65 cases are simply in limbo. The Attorney General is authorized under both state and federal law to supplement the District Attorneys’ prosecution of unemployment fraud with her staff. Apparently, it’s OK by her to let these crimes go unpunished.

Now, the Attorney General will tell you that her team can’t prosecute more cases because I refuse to pay her bills.

The truth? Yes, my administration has refused to pay her bills since May of 2018. It’s because we’ve asked repeatedly for a transparent billing process, and she has refused.

When you hire an attorney in the private sector, you know exactly how much time the legal team is spending on your case. You get billed in six-minute increments.

However, the AG sends bills to state agencies with only lump sums and no detail. The agencies and taxpayers paying these bills should know exactly how much time the AG’s staff is dedicating to the various legal issues they handle. It only makes sense, and it’s what other states have done for years.

When you see hundreds of fraud cases waiting years for prosecution – while at the same time, the AG’s office is joining dozens of lawsuits that directly contradict the policies of our executive branch – you have to wonder what the AG’s staff are doing.

Fraud isn’t a victimless crime. These con artists waste taxpayer money that should go to our neediest. Prosecuting fraud sends a strong message that we won’t tolerate abuse of the system.

In the fight against fraud, Janet Mills has been a follower, not a leader.

Thank you.

Paul LePage

Governor

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