U.S. Attorney Files Suit To Reclaim Federal Unemployment Compensation, Seeks Triple Damages And Additional Penalties From North Providence Resident Who Allegedly Collected Unemployment Benefits While In Syria
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – United States Attorney Peter F. Neronha today announced the filing of a civil complaint in U.S. District Court in Providence against Ahmad Jbawi, 39, of North Providence, R.I., alleging that Jbawi made multiple false representations to the State of Rhode Island’s Department of Labor and Training in order to collect federally funded extended unemployment benefits to which he was not entitled. It is alleged that Jbawi falsely claimed and certified that he was able and available for work when this was not true under Rhode Island State law. In fact, he was mainly in Syria for more than half of the 700 days between January 18, 2009 and April 16, 2011, during which time he collected nearly $35,000 in federally funded benefits.
In the wake of the global financial crisis, in 2008 Congress authorized multiple federally-funded extensions of benefits for individuals collecting unemployment. In many cases, these extension payments, administered by the state, were critical to the ability of unemployed individuals to meet basic economic needs. Under program guidelines, however, to receive unemployment benefits, an applicant is required to certify that he/she are able and available for work and attached to the labor market. An applicant is also required to report any self or outside employment to the state.
The government’s case is brought under the False Claims Act, which allows the United States to recover federal funds that are paid out as a result of fraud, as well as triple damages and penalties of between $5,500 and $11,000 for each false claim submitted. According to the complaint, it is alleged that Jbawi made at least 56 false claims and fraudulently collected $34,290 in federally funded unemployment benefits. The U.S. Attorney is seeking all legally available remedies in this matter.
“While the amount in question may appear to some to be modest, the principle at issue in this case is not,” said United States Attorney Peter F. Neronha. “These funds were designated to provide unemployed individuals the opportunity to support themselves and their families through difficult times while they looked for work, not to reward fraud like the conduct alleged here. This Office will vigorously pursue abuses of this program with all the legal tools at our disposal.”
A Civil Complaint is merely an allegation and is not evidence of guilt or liability, which the government is required to establish by a preponderance of the evidence.
This case is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary A. Cunha. The matter was investigated by the United States Department of Labor Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations and the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training Fraud Unit.
To assist the media and the public, a glossary of federal judicial terms and procedures is available at http://www.justice.gov/usao/justice101/