ATLANTIC COUNTY -
An investigation into an unemployment fraud scheme in New Jersey that includes eight defendants, two from Atlantic County, were indicted for allegedly stealing nearly $100,000 in insurance benefits. Authorities say five of the defendants were behind bars at the time, while their wives assisted them in receiving the money.
Earlier this afternoon, we caught up with one of the men who was indicted for allegedly collecting these benefits while he was serving a DWI sentence from August of 2009 until June of 2010 at the Atlantic County Jail.
During his ten month sentence, it is alleged that Kurt Ohlson, and his ex–wife, Donna Ohlson, were fraudulently collecting nearly $26,000 in unemployment insurance benefits.
However, Kurt Ohlson said he didn't know he was doing anything wrong.
"If I thought I had anything to hide, if I thought I did anything fraudulently, I wouldn't be speaking to you right now," said Kurt Ohlson.
Ohlson tells NBC 40 that while serving his 10-month sentence in 2009 at the Atlantic County Jail, an official told him there was no problem with collecting unemployment insurance benefits.
"I was told by individuals at the county jail that it was acceptable for me to collect unemployment. I was looking for consultant work at the time and was trying to support my family," said Ohlson.
While incarcerated, it is alleged that his ex wife, Donna Ohlson, was aiding him in receiving nearly $26,000 in unemployment insurance benefits.
Elie Honig, Director of Criminal Justice for the Division of the Attorney General's Office, says under unemployment guidelines, a person receiving benefits must be verified every two weeks as being physically able to go to work immediately.
"What happened here was prisoners essentially lied about that. Obviously if you're in prison, you're not available to go to work immediately," said Honig.
"I think we'll have our day in court. Until proven guilty, I'm innocent. That's what it really comes down to," said Ohlson.
The Ohlson's, along with the six other defendants in the investigation, were charged with third–degree theft by deception, which carries a potential sentence of three to five years in state prison and up to $15,000 in fines.
"We also want to send a message that anyone else who's thinking of doing this ought to think again," said Honig.
"Had I known I was doing something wrong, I certainly would have not collected fraudulently," said Ohlson.
Director Honig also says it was a joint effort in bringing this issue to light, adding that the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development was instrumental in the outcome of the investigation.
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