LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — A Las Vegas doctor has found himself at the center of Nevada unemployment scam that now has state and federal authorities investigating across multiple states.
Dr. Ben Lurie says it all started with a suspicious piece of mail from the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, or DETR.
Lurie is the CEO of the Neck and Back Clinics, which has locations across Las Vegas and an office in Arizona.
The companies chief financial officer alerted Lurie about an unemployment claim that had been made in his name.
"Our office has been open through this pandemic, we were deemed essential by Governor Sisolak when this [pandemic] first started," said Dr. Lurie.
Lurie called DETR to alert authorities about the fraudulent claim.
"From July 2, I called, on the third," said Lurie.
"I started those phone calls on the sixth and it wasn't until Tuesday [July 7] that I was actually able to reach somebody in the fraud division. It took 150 to 200 calls a day until I was able to get through," explained Lurie.
Lurie learned someone was able to apply for and received Nevada unemployment benefits using his sensitive information including, date of birth social security number, and place of employment.
The benefits totaled more than $4,200.
"I am absolutely shocked that [DETR] did not verify the information and they only rely on us filling [the notice] out from a human resources standpoint, obviously these claims are fraudulent and it was surprising that it has been paid out yet they had no verification from our company," said Lurie.
The suspicious activity took another twist when a special agent with the US Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, called soon after.
The special agent identified himself as with the racketeering and fraud division out of Chicago, Illinois.
"He stated that they had a suspect in custody, they needed to ask me a bunch of questions to verify who I was, at that point I went ahead and verified all the questions for him," explained Lurie.
Through the conversation, Lurie says the special agent revealed police in Chicago Heights, Illinois, pulled over a car in a routine traffic stop.
While the officers searched the vehicle, Lurie says police found unemployment paperwork and person driving had suspicious unemployment paperwork and a Nevada unemployment debit card with Lurie's name on it.
"He explained to me that on his possession at the time, he allegedly had the DETR card, the debit card, that was redirected from my home address to an address out of Chicago, Illinois," said Lurie.
13 Investigates contacted the Chicago Heights Police Department and has obtained the related police report.
According to the documents, police pulled over a vehicle on July 12 for windows the officer suspected were too tinted under Illinois law.
The stop revealed the windows were in fact too tinted but the officer detected the smell of marijuana in the vehicle.
During the search, the report indicated officers found more than $24,000 in US currency, bundled and sorted in a way that 'was consistent with illegal activities' as well as 23 money orders in $800 dollar increments totaling more than $18,000.
The investigators also found 68 credit cards from different banks in multiple names that were not the driver's name.
He was arrested.
The Chicago Heights Police Department involved the federal authorities soon after.
13 Investigates contacted the United States Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General.
A spokesperson says as a practice, the agency cannot confirm nor deny there is an active and open investigation.
13 Investigates submitted questions to the Nevada Department of Employment Training and Rehabilitation on July 21, in line with their new media question protocol.
Those questions included:
- Has DETR suffered a data breach?
- Is DETR investigating multiple issues of fraud claims made on behalf of employees who are still are working and continuing to work?
- Is there a fraud scheme targeting high-income earners to get maximum benefits?
- If DETR is aware of this scheme, how are the perpetrators able to provide the necessary information including correct DOBs, social security numbers and wages?
- Is DETR determining if this fraud situation is the result of an inside job or conducted by an employee or vendor?
- Why is DETR not verifying unemployment/PUA claims before paying claims in these fraud schemes? (that’s the claim now being made by multiple employers interviewed by 13 Action News)
- Craig Kenny and Associates has had 6 (SIX) employees at the law firm who have had fraudulent claims made on the behalf of employees, do you have any information about how or why this is happening?
- Employers report they cannot get through to DETR to notify the agency about the fraud claims. And then they finally get through to someone, the advice is to make a police report with the local jurisdiction. Employers have tried to do that with mixed results, Metro told one employer to contact the FBI, which they tried to do, but cannot because they require additional information which the victims do not have. What is the course of action a victim of this scheme should take, and have the law enforcement agencies been made aware they are being instructed to handle these reports for investigation?
In a live and scripted news conference on July 24, DETR representatives attempted to answer some of the submitted questions.
"DETR has heard from many businesses and citizens that may have had their personal identifying information accessed without their consent and used for fraudulent claims, this is not a result of any known data breach at DETR," said Kimberly Gaa, an administrator with the agency.
According to Nevada officials, the agency has received an unknown number of fraudulent claim, likely thousands.
"Nevada is actively working with law enforcement entities and the Department of Labor to detect and prevent and address fraud and this includes DETR's participation in the attorney general's fraud task force," added Gaa.
Authorities did not address any of the additional questions submitted by 13 Investigates.
Authorities also would not reveal details about the investigations explaining it is for the protection of the integrity of the process.
This type of fraud is a felony and Nevada authorities are working along side their federal partners adding they will seek the maximum penalties against any one who is prosecuted.
The state is pleading for patience while they work through the fraudulent claims to pay those who are still waiting for payment.