September 1, 2014

State hires more people to investigate unemployment fraud

IWD director,Teresa Wahlert.

IWD director,Teresa Wahlert. (file photo)

State officials are hiring more staff to review unemployment claims and look for fraud.

Iowa Workforce Development director Teresa Wahlert says in 2010 five of the nine investigators in the investigative unit took early retirement incentives and left the agency.

“So we went down to four investigators,” Wahlert says.

The department operated at that barebones staff level for the past three-and-a-half years. However, in May, Wahlert started hiring more investigators for the bureau and by February she plans to have 11 investigators on staff. Wahlert says she’s not worried some fraudulent claims have gone unnoticed during the past few years when the investigative unit was understaffed because Iowa reviews cases longer than the federal government requires.

“I’m not concerned about that because we investigate our cases for over 10 years,” Wahlert says. “So even though the federal law really cuts things off at three years, we in Iowa do go the extra step, so we will continue to be investigating fraud cases for at least 10 years in arrears, as we do overpayments.”

The increase in fraud investigators comes as the number of unemployment claims submitted to Iowa Workforce Development has dropped, due to the improving economy.

In 2013 the agency reported that about six percent of unemployment claims filed in Iowa had some sort of mistake or contained intentional fraud. Iowa Workforce Development recently signed a contract with a company that uses its computer software to flag suspected fraud. For example, sham companies are being set up around the country, claiming to have hired workers, then claiming layoffs — just to collect the unemployment checks. Federal officials estimate about 30 percent of unemployment fraud comes from people who were out of work, but continue to receive unemployment benefits after they’ve landed another job.

Ex-teacher faces more child sex crime allegations

A former high school English teacher in Montezuma who was charged last year with inappropriate sexual contact with four students now faces more charges.

This past June someone told authorities 28-year-old Derek John Bates had committed sexual acts with two more students. These incidents allegedly occured two years ago, during the spring and early summer of 2012. Authorities interviewed the two students, who said the incidents occured off of school grounds. Bates was arrested Friday and charged with two counts of sexual abuse in the third degree and one count of sexual exploitation by a school employee.

Bates had been a teacher at the school from the fall of 2009 ’til October of 2012 when he resigned after being charged with drinking alcohol in a classroom with a 17-year-old student. Last summer Bates was charged with third degree sexual abuse and other sex-related charges based on the testimony of four other students.

Festival of Iowa Beers this Sunday in Amana

MillstreamThe 10th Annual Festival of Iowa Beers is scheduled for this weekend at the Millstream Brewery in Amana. Millstream owner Teresa Albert says Iowa’s beer business is booming.

“We have over 52 licensed breweries now,” Albert says, “and we’ve got 27 of them coming to the Festival of Iowa Beers Sunday.”

There will be 100 different craft beers available for sampling in Amana on Sunday afternoon. Albert isn’t worried about hosting her Iowa craft beer competitors in her backyard.

“It’s about the education. We’re educating people about the craft beer,” Albert says. “The more people we can get converted to craft beer, the bigger my business is going to be.”

The Millstream Brewery opened 29 years ago this weekend.

“We’re top 10-15 oldest operational microbrewery in the United States,” Albert says. “Prohibition shut down a lot of them in different states and they never reopened and then the craze for the nation really didn’t happen until the early ’90s and we opened in ’85, so we were about five or six or seven years before the microbrew craze hit.”

There are now more than 4500 licensed breweries in the United States and experts say craft beer sales have recently been growing by up to 15 percent a year. The entry fee for Sunday’s Festival of Iowa Beers is $20.

“You’re going to be able to try some really unique beer. Some of them make a special beer for this festival and you might not get it on the shelves,” Albert says. “…I would say three-fourths of the tables are being poured by the actual brewers of the beer and you can’t get that anywhere else. The home brewers go nuts. They get to talk to the brewers, you know, pick their brains, taste their beers.”

The following Iowa breweries will be setting up booths for tasting: Millstream Brewing of Amana, Old Main Brewery of Ames, Court Avenue Brewery of Des Moines, Raccoon River Brewery of Des Moines, Third Base Brewery of Cedar Rapids, Lost Duck Brewery of Fort Madison, Granite City Brewery of Clive/Davenport/Cedar Rapids, Raccoon River of Des Moines, New American Brewery of Ankeny, Firetrucker Brewery of Ankeny, Broad Street Brewery of Reinbeck, Exile Brewery of Des Moines, Twisted Vine Brewery of St. Charles, Madhouse Brewery of Des Moines, CIB Brewery of Macedonia, Keg Creek Brewery of Glenwood, Kalona Brewery of Kalona, Worth Brewery of Northwood, Peace Tree Brewery of Knoxville, Backpocket Brewery of Coralville, Confluence Brewery of Des Moines, 515 Brewery of Clive, Lion Bridge Brewery of Cedar Rapids, Okoboji Brewery of Okoboji, Great River Brewery of Davenport, Mason City Brewery of Mason City, Single Speed Brewery of Cedar Falls, Olde Main Brewery of Ames and West O Brewery of West Okoboji.

Ten years ago, the first Festival of Iowa Beers featured just eight breweries.

Former Malvern city clerk accused of theft

A former southwest Iowa library director is charged with theft after an audit identified thousands of dollars of improper billing for personal items. Forty-one-year-old Stacey Buick was the library director in Malvern. An audit released earlier this month concluded Buick altered receipts and billed the city for nearly $33,000 worth of big ticket items, like a home theater system and a window air conditioner as well as smaller purchases, like laundry detergent and Easter candy.

Buick resigned from the job last year. She’s been charged with ongoing criminal conduct as well as theft.


First debate in third go-round between Loebsack & Miller-Meeks

The major party candidates running in Iowa’s second congressional district this year met in their first debate of the season Thursday evening. Both Democratic Congressman Dave Loebsack and Republican challenger Mariannette Miller-Meeks agreed congress is dysfunctional.

Miller-Meeks said Loebsack is part of the problem because he moves in “lock-step” with President Obama.

“He is a puppet of this administration and a puppet of Nancy Pelosi, so he does what they want him to do,” Miller-Meeks said. “His voting record shows that.”

Loebsack said he’s worked with Republicans on key issues.

“This year I’m the person who led the charge in the U.S. House of Representatives on a bipartisan basis to get the funding back in for Meals on Wheels,” Loebsack said.

Both said economic sanctions are the appropriate response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and the two discussed the rise of Islamic militants who’ve taken control of parts of Syria and Iraq. Miller-Meeks faulted President Obama for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq in December of 2011.

“In World War II when we had troops that remained in Germany, we had troops that remained in Japan, that we were able to help those countries transition to a more stable form of government, to a growing economy and out of war,” Miller-Meeks said.

Loebsack said the country was “war-weary” when Obama made the call.

“Iraq is not World War II,” Loebsack said. “Iraq is not even North and South Korea and if you’re suggesting that we keep 39,000 troops in Iraq as we did in Korea for all those years or hundreds of thousands of troops as we did in Europe, that makes absolutely no sense.”

On domestic issues, Miller-Meeks said congress must address the growing number of states allowing marijuana to be used as medicine.

“I think you do have to look at decriminalizing the medical use of marijuana,” Miller-Meeks said. “I do think that’s something on a federal level, when you have states acting in that regard, and then that’s in contrast to what the federal law is.”

Loebsack chimed in on the issue as well.

“My answer’s very short,” he said. “I’m in favor of medical marijuana use.”

However, neither embraced the idea of going the next step and making marijuana a legal drug for everyone, just like alcohol.

Miller-Meeks said the Affordable Care Act has not made insurance more affordable, but she did not call for repealing the bill. Loebsack accused Miller-Meeks of flip-flopping from her positions on the issue in previous campaigns. Miller-Meeks has twice before run against Loebsack, losing in 2008 and 2010.

Thursday’s debate was held at City High in Iowa City and broadcast live on Iowa Public Television. The video of the hour-long event is now available on IPTV’s website.

IWD director defends her managment of state agency, says she’s ‘direct’

Iowa Workforce Development director Teresa Wahlert appeared before the Iowa Senate Oversight Committee Wednesday and defended the way she runs the agency.

“My management style is direct,” Wahlert said.

On Tuesday, administrative law judges in the agency told legislators Wahlert has pressured them to rule in favor of businesses rather than employees in contested unemployment cases. Wahlert told lawmakers the statistics show employees win those cases more often and the rate of employee wins has been increasing.

“To think that I have been influencing people to rule on behalf of employers — the data just does not support that,” Wahlert said.

On Tuesday, several workers in the agency appeared before the senate committee to say Wahlert’s primary management tool was fear. Wahlert on Wednesday told lawmakers she had to make changes to save money and make the agency run more efficiently — and she’s aware her management style isn’t popular with everyone in the department.

“I know that some personalities adapt to change more quickly and readily than others,” she said.

Wahlert and Democrats on the committee quarreled about the agency’s March overpayment of unemployment benefits to 85 people who didn’t seek another round of benefits. Democrats blasted Wahlert for telling employees in the agency not to talk about the computer glitch, and questioned whether the overpayment might be larger. Wahlert responded: “We knew exactly how many people reported it in to us. I have no reason to think it’s more.”

Wahlert said it’s just a cost of doing business and the state will not seek repayment of the 27-thousand dollars worth of unemployment benefits sent to those 85 Iowans since the mistake was the state’s and the employees aren’t at fault.

Steve King predicts ‘politically nuclear’ reaction if Obama issues executive order on immigration

Republican Congressman Steve King says the reaction will be “politically nuclear” if President Obama bypasses congress and issues an executive order granting some sort of legal status to illegal immigrants.

“First, the president has no constitutional authority to make up laws as he wishes they would be, but he threatens to do so anyway,” King told KLEM radio in Le Mars. “…If the president does this and five to nine or more million people get a ‘you are now legal’ slip from the president of the United States, that throws us into an instantaneous constitutional crisis.”

Congress faces another deadline in September to approve a federal budget or pass a stop-gap measure to avoid a government shutdown. King said those discussions may break down if President Obama uses an executive order on immigration policy.

“This would be the most blatantly unconstitutional act by any president of the United States ever if he does what his trial balloons and his own threats have promised to do,” King said. “And so, as the intensity of that gets closer and closer, it’s more and more likely that something like that will happen.”

Reports indicate President Obama is considering executive action that would make more undocumented immigrants eligible for green cards and place more people on the “deferred action” list, so deportation procedings are delayed. White House spokesman Josh Earnest says it “would be a shame” if Republicans in congress decide to shut down the government over the immigration issue.

(Reporting by Dennis Morrice, KLEM, Le Mars; additional reporting by Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson)