ATLANTA – The Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL) withheld more than $105 million in penalties and fees accumulated in the last decade rather than turning it over to the state treasury, an internal audit has found.
The funds – administrative assessment fees, interest fees and employer penalties – were transferred to the treasury last week, as required by law, state Commissioner of Labor Bruce Thompson said Thursday. All of the funds were withheld during the administration of former Labor Commissioner Mark Butler, like Thompson, a Republican. Thompson took office at the beginning of January.
“This agency will no longer be shrouded in secrecy and isolation but fully cooperate with fellow state agencies and authorities to identify all fraud and corruption associated with the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund and the department,” Thompson said.
“No one is above the law, and I hope everyone connected to this investigation voluntarily and openly cooperates with officials as we seek to put this dark history behind us.”
The 10-page audit, dated Aug. 4, does not allege fraudulent activity on the part of the labor department. Instead, it attributes the withholding of the funds to a legal disagreement.
According to the report, the money was withheld because the agency’s “upper management” was unhappy the department was not being appropriated the full amount of the fees and penalties it had collected and, as a result, withheld the funds intentionally. An in-house lawyer for the labor department believed the agency had a legal right to retain the money, the audit found.
While not alleging criminal wrongdoing, the audit concluded the practice of withholding funds from the state treasury in violation of the Georgia Constitution could encourage corruption.
“When management makes decisions to override the internal controls, policies and procedures which have been placed into operation, opportunities for fraud, waste, abuse and various forms of corruption tend to increase,” State Auditor Greg Griffin wrote. “In this case, our investigation found none of the retained funds had apparently been expended by GDOL.”
The investigation remains ongoing. State and federal agencies involved in the probe include the Georgia attorney general’s office, the U.S. Department of Labor, the state Office of Inspector General, and the Georgia Department of Audits & Accounts.
Thompson said Thursday’s announcement marks a significant step toward restoring accountability and transparency at the labor department.
This story available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, an initiative of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.