Part of the problem, the task force wrote, was that, unlike at least 35 other states, California lacks the technology to crosscheck its state prison rolls and jail rosters against its lists of unemployment insurance claimants.
About two weeks ago, however, the group received a crosscheck from the U.S. Department of Labor between federal unemployment insurance claims data and a list of California prison inmates that federal officials had subpoenaed from the state.
The 35,000-plus payments sent out in the name of state prisoners alone, they discovered, totaled more than $140 million between March and August, with nearly a half-million dollars disbursed in the names of 133 death row inmates. Among the largest: a claim for $19,676 disbursed in the name of a death row inmate and another for $48,600 in the name of another felon.
The crosscheck did not include the state’s 58 county jails, state hospitals where sexually violent predators and mentally ill inmates are incarcerated or other institutions where people are being held under civil commitments.
However, Ms. Schubert said, the task force investigation has uncovered fraudulent claims filed under the names and Social Security numbers of inmates at every level of the corrections system, including most of the jails, all of the state’s 30-plus prisons and thousands of federal prisoners.
A spokeswoman for the Employment Development Department said it would be “pursuing how to integrate such cross-matches moving forward as part of enhanced prevention efforts during this unprecedented time of pandemic-related unemployment fraud across the country. In addition, EDD is working collaboratively with state cybersecurity experts.”
“The volume of fraud as well as the types of inmates involved is staggering,” the task force wrote to Mr. Newsom, adding that many of the claims filed under the names of inmates were being paid to recipients in other states and, in some cases, other countries.
“This needs to be halted,” Ms. Schubert said. “We are paying hundreds of millions of dollars in the name of serial killers, rapists and child molesters. We need to turn the spigot off.”
Ben Casselman contributed reporting from New York.