Suzi LeVine, the departing head of Washington state’s Employment Security Department (ESD), reportedly will run a federal agency office that assists states in processing unemployment claims.
It seems if your a Democrat you can be really lousy at your job and still get promoted to an even higher level job doing the same thing. She lost 600 million in state unemployment payments.
But LeVine’s transition into the Biden administration role comes amid an unemployment fraud scandal at her state-level department that cost Washington state over $600 million.
The fraudulent unemployment claims were believed to be linked to a well-organized Nigerian fraud ring using identities stolen in prior data breaches, such as the massive 2017 Equifax breach. More than 122,000 fraudulent claims made in the state siphoned off the cash.
The Secret Service announced that Washington state was the main prey of the scandal, though other states were also targeted. Separately, California has its own unemployment scandal amounting to over $11 billion, while another $20 billion in possible losses is still being investigated.
LeVine’s forthcoming role will be interim assistant secretary of the Employment and Training Administration, part of the Labor Department, five people familiar with the transition told Bloomberg Law.
It’s not clear if LeVine will ever drop the “interim” part of her new title, but to transition into the permanent role she must be confirmed by the Senate, and questions about her record in Olympia could arise.
A recent Washington state audit faulted the ESD under LeVine for failing to fix a software vulnerability that contributed to last spring’s massive unemployment fraud, according to the Seattle Times.
LeVine, announcing the staggering blow to the state’s finances in May, said that officials were working to recover as much of the money as possible. She said the state had taken steps to prevent new fraudulent claims, but did not detail the steps.
“We do have definitive proof that the countermeasures we have put in place are working,” LeVine said. “We have successfully prevented hundreds of millions of additional dollars from going out to these criminals and prevented thousands of fraudulent claims from being filed.”
Washington state was able to recover $357 million as a result of the state’s collaboration with federal law enforcement and financial institutions across the country, leaving a net loss of $243 million. Efforts are ongoing to recover more of the money.
ESD officials acknowledged that because of the elimination of a so-called waiting week between when a claim is filed and the time the benefit was paid, the agency wasn’t always able to verify a claim with employers before the payment was made. The change was instituted by Gov. Jay Inslee.
State auditor Pat McCarthy rebuked LeVine, a fellow Democrat, for delays in supplying the auditor’s office with information about the fraud.
Jim Brunner Seattle Times political reporter
More than seven months ago, on June 24, 2020, I dashed off a public-records request for the calendar of Suzi LeVine, the commissioner of Washington’s Employment Security Department (ESD).
This was a routine request — the kind of thing state agencies typically turn around within days. I wanted to see what LeVine had been up to as a massive fraud scheme overwhelmed her agency.
And now, 219 days later, I finally got it Friday morning.
Meanwhile, LeVine, a top Democratic Party political fundraiser, has outlasted my request, leaving for a job in the Biden administration.
Wednesday night I took my plight to Twitter, detailing the whole lousy ordeal. My experience touched a nerve with other journalists and state residents also frustrated at ESD’s public-disclosure stalling.
It also caught the attention of The Seattle Times executive editor, who assigned me to write about it. That’s what I get for tweeting.
So, I’m sharing this narrative as a reporter’s notebook (tweetbook?) of sorts in the hope it gives you a sense of the teeth-grating obstacles we face at times in seeking accountability from government.