By Jason A. Smith
Five area residents face criminal charges in Henry County, amid allegations they fraudulently collected unemployment benefits.
The suspects, charged in separate cases with violating the Georgia Employment Security Law are: Ashley Lyn Cogdill, 23, of Stockbridge; Daniel Lee Johnson, 50, of McDonough; Bobby Maxeric Smith, 37, of Morrow; Dana Deshawn Tillman, 42, of McDonough; and Phillip Lemel Anderson, 46, of Stockbridge.
Arrest warrants were taken out by authorities with the Georgia Department of Labor Aug. 27, according Henry County District Attorney Tommy Floyd. He said the warrants allege that each of the defendants "knowingly made false representations to the ... Department of Labor to obtain unemployment benefits."
Floyd said Johnson is alleged to have collected the most money - $11,520 - from the state agency. Other benefit totals in the cases are $6,074 for Smith, $5,120 for Tillman and $2,105 for Cogdill, the district attorney said.
Anderson was apprehended Wednesday. His warrant alleges $4,576 in fraud, according to Magistrate Court Clerk April Blackburn.
Authorities said each of the offenses is alleged to have taken place in Henry. Sam Hall, communications director for the state's labor department, did not release additional details on the suspects, citing privacy concerns which are inherent in unemployment-insurance law. He did say the Labor Department is engaged in a "consistent effort" to catch those believed to be defrauding the agency. To assist in this endeavor, he added, the agency has "built-in safeguards" to prevent and detect fraud.
"We are taking steps to ensure anyone receiving benefits, is legally entitled to do so," said Hall. "If a person is receiving ... benefits, they are required by law to certify to us, once a week, that they are still unemployed and eligible to receive benefits." He said such certification constitutes a sworn statement.
According to Hall, a person could be subject to monetary penalties, or legal action, if it is proven he, or she, fraudulently attempts to claim unemployment funds.
"If they've gone back to work and [continuing to receive benefits] is a mistake, they have the opportunity to pay the money back," he said. "If it was intentional, their case may be turned over to the legal system. The Department of Labor is very proactive in detecting unemployment fraud, and prosecuting those who do it."
Warrants were issued for the five suspects Aug. 27. Ashley Cogdill was apprehended the same day. Johnson, Smith and Tillman were taken into custody Aug. 28, and Anderson was arrested Wednesday.
Cogdill, Johnson and Smith were released from the Henry County Jail Aug. 28, on $1,050 bond each, prior to their first scheduled appearances in Magistrate Court. Cogdill and Tillman, who are both represented by the Henry County Public Defender's Office, waived their respective rights to a preliminary hearing and were bound over to Superior Court.
Johnson and Smith did not appear in court as scheduled and, as such, their cases were automatically bound over. Tillman was released from jail Aug. 29 on $1,045 bond.
Anderson was released from the jail Thursday, on a property bond of $9,142. His case was also bound over to Superior Court.
Floyd said the next step for the District Attorney's Office is to assign an investigator to look into each of the fraud cases, to enable him to prepare charging documents for the grand jury in the near future. The maximum penalty for each of the suspects is five years in prison.