Former Alaska Bus Driver Pulled Over for Stealing Unemployment Insurance Benefits; Other Defendants Meet Similar Fate

March 30, 2004

U.S. District Court Judge John Sedwick has imposed an eight month federal prison sentence on a former Kodiak, Alaska school bus driver found guilty of 21 felony counts of mail fraud.

The court also ordered Edgar David Leon, 38, to pay restitution of more than $9,000 plus a court assessment fee of $2,100.

A joint investigation by state, federal and Kodiak authorities revealed that Leon stole the identities of seven previous recipients of state unemployment insurance benefits. He reportedly used the false identities to apply for, receive and cash 21 fraudulent unemployment insurance checks totaling $9,087.20.

Leon’s illegal activities triggered an investigation in December 2001 when a bank teller became suspicious after the defendant began depositing multiple unemployment insurance benefit checks with forged signatures in his account.

The investigation was initiated by Jim Schwanke, lead investigator for the Unemployment Insurance Investigations Fraud Unit of the Employment Security Division in the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Schwanke confirmed that signatures on the checks deposited by Leon were forged prompting the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Kodiak Police Department to join the investigation.

Labor Commissioner Greg O’Claray said unemployment insurance benefits represent a state financial commitment in the hundreds of millions of dollars. “The state intends to be strict with offenders,” he said. “It’s just not fair to all of our honest workers when a few try to cheat the system.”

Employment Security Division Director Thomas Nelson warned that violators risk the future loss of unemployment benefits. Courts may also impose full repayment of false benefits, heavy fines, jail time, probation and community work service.

Labor investigators continue to work closely with district attorneys statewide in an attempt to crack down on the theft of unemployment insurance benefits. Nelson and Schwanke summarized other recent unemployment insurance fraud convictions in Alaska.

Eight defendants were sentenced to a combined total of 315 days in jail, to perform community work service and to pay restitution exceeding $85,000. All defendants were also placed on probation that varied from 24 to 48 months.

Bethel Superior Court and Kenai Superior Court: Six defendants were convicted on Class C Felony charges of Theft in the 2nd Degree for failing to accurately report work and earnings while collecting unemployment insurance benefits:

*Charlie Hootch, 37, Emmonak, ordered to pay restitution of $14,692
*Robert E. Pasitnak, 53, Akiachak, $11,755 restitution
*Nancy A. Fitka, 46, Marshall, $9,009.50 restitution
*Andrew J. Liskey, 34, Tuluksak, $5,616 restitution
*Shari Wilson, 49, Kenai, $12,637.50 restitution
*Robert E. Bush, Jr., 38, Kasilof, $5,328 restitution

Kodiak Superior Court: Maryann V. Arrogante, 31, was convicted on a Class B Felony of Scheme to Defraud for filing inaccurate unemployment insurance benefit claims; 45 days in jail, 10 years probation, $18,838.50 restitution.

Petersburg Superior Court: Dean M. Spaulding, 43, Petersburg, one year in jail with 90 days suspended, $9,900 restitution on a Class C Felony conviction of Theft in the 2nd Degree for failing to accurately report his work and earnings.

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