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Former state worker pleads guilty to embezzling jobless benefits

Trish Mehaffey, The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa –

UPDATE: A former Iowa Workforce Development employee, previously convicted of similar charges in 2000, pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court to embezzling more than $43,000 in unemployment benefits from 2008 to 2009.

Linda Pippen, 41, of Fairfax, a former Workforce advisor, pleaded guilty to one count of embezzling federal funds and one count of aggravated identity theft. She faces up to 12 years in prison for both charges, up to $500,000 in fines. She also must pay restitution of $43,582, according to the plea agreement.

Pippen, who is also a lead plaintiff in a class action discrimination lawsuit for black workers suing the state, admitted in court to making fraudulent entries, using another person’s name and Social Security number, for unemployment benefits from May 2008 to Nov. 6, 2009.

According to the plea agreement, Pippen admitted to altering the computerized accounts of individuals who had been receiving unemployment benefits and caused the accounts to inaccurately reflect what the individuals should continue to receive after those individuals were no longer eligible to receive benefits.

Pippen also altered bank account and routing numbers associated with the accounts so that funds were directed to bank accounts under her control, according to the plea agreement.

Pippen’s criminal history was revealed during the hearing when U.S. Magistrate Jon Scoles questioned why she was hired by the state for such a position with prior convictions for embezzlement, third-degree theft and identity theft.

“It’s hard to believe she was hired by the state in a position with fiduciary responsibilities with her criminal history,” Scoles said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Deegan said he couldn’t comment further on Pippen’s criminal history until after she is sentenced.

Kerry Koonce, spokesperson for Iowa Workforce Development, said Pippen was hired in September 1998. She was convicted on embezzlement charges in 2000, but the agency or state had no knowledge of it. The agency and state didn’t find out about the previous convictions until an investigation was conducted in this case.

“The state doesn’t conduct background checks,” Koonce said. “Of course, it depends on the position, but not for (her) pay grade. She answered ‘no’ to the question ‘have you ever been convicted of a felony’ (on job application), which would have been true in 1998.”

Another judge will likely make a ruling in the next several months regarding the class action lawsuit in which Pippen is the lead plaintiff. The lawsuit involves a class of up to 6,000 black people turned down for state jobs and promotions dating back to 2003. Pippen claims she was unfairly passed over for a promotion given to a less-qualified white woman. Lawyers are seeking millions in lost wages.

Pippen was released without bond pending sentencing. She will be monitored by a probation officer and cannot work in a position with fiduciary responsibilities, Scoles ordered.

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