A Georgetown man, who authorities say was receiving unemployment insurance payments while he was serving time in prison, has been convicted of theft by deception.

The case was pursued actively by the Maine Department of Labor working in conjunction with the Sagadahoc County District Attorney’s Office, according to a news release issued Tuesday by the department.

Julie Rabinowitz, a spokeswoman for the Department of Labor, said 35-year-old Joshua Harwood, of Georgetown, was convicted July 30 in Sagadahoc County Superior Court of theft by deception for fraudulently receiving unemployment insurance payments.

Harwood was sentenced to serve two and a half years at the Maine State Prison with all but 30 days suspended. He was also placed on probation for two years, according to Rabinowitz. Harwood will be required to pay $9,212 in restitution — an amount that includes benefits as well as interest and penalty charges.

“Our recent fraud convictions send a strong message to people who abuse our unemployment system,” Gov. Paul LePage said in a statement. “Unemployment fraud hurts the safety net that protects workers who are laid off through no fault of their own. Fraud burdens the businesses that pay unemployment taxes to fund the benefits. Keeping money in the trust fund lowers taxes and preserves benefits for people who need them.”

In 2014, the state has recovered more than $87,000 in fraudulent payments through court actions. Ninety-two fraud cases are pending in Maine courts, according to the Department of Labor.

Rabinowitz was unable to say which county jail or state prison facility housed Harwood during his period of incarceration when he was filing for unemployment benefits.

Sagadahoc County District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau confirmed Tuesday evening that Harwood’s theft by deception case was prosecuted by his office, but he was unable to provide additional details. Harwood’s case was referred to the district attorney’s office in October.

Rabinowitz said she was not familiar with the particulars of Harwood’s fraud scheme but speculated he may have been receiving unemployment benefits before being incarcerated.

“There is a likelihood that there was some unemployment history before he went to prison,” she said.

Unemployment applicants — in the beginning phases — can apply for benefits in person, by telephone, by mail or by applying online, Rabinowitz said.

After being approved for benefits, recepients must file for benefits on a weekly basis and certify that they were available for work and actively searching for work.

Rabinowitz said the state implemented a prisoner cross-match database system two years ago, which gives the state the ability to identify inmates who are receiving or trying to apply for unemployment benefits. The average weekly unemployment benefit paid to an individual is $280.

In July, 49-year-old Tracy Young, of Portland, was convicted of theft by deception for fraudulently receiving unemployment insurance payments, according to the Department of Labor. Young worked and earned wages while collecting unemployment benefits. Young paid $2,587 in restitution.

“Fraud prosecution and prevention is a priority for the department. In the past two years we’ve improved our reporting systems. We now receive information from employers faster and perform better cross-matches against employment and other databases, including people who are incarcerated, to identify potential fraud. These efforts are paying off and send a strong message,” Jeanne Paquette, Maine’s Commissioner of Labor, said in a statement.

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