PHILADELPHIA – United States Attorney Jacqueline C. Romero announced that three area railroad workers have agreed to pay over $75,000, collectively, to resolve claims of unemployment benefits fraud under the False Claims Act. In three civil actions filed this week, the government alleges that Shohana Culberson, of Philadelphia, PA; Keith Abele, of Levittown, PA; and James T. Billups, of Newark, DE; applied for and received unemployment benefits from the United States Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) when they were, in fact, gainfully employed.
The Railroad Retirement Act provides unemployment benefits for railroad workers who are out of work. The program is administered by the RRB and is financed by taxes paid by railroad employees.
The government alleges that defendant Culberson submitted 20 false claims for unemployment benefits between March and December 2017, while she was employed by Comcast. The government also alleges that Abele submitted 31 false claims for unemployment benefits between November 2016 and April 2018, while he was employed by Terminal Switching Company, LLC and Watco Transloading, LLC. Finally, the government alleges that defendant Billups submitted 13 false claims for unemployment benefits between September 2017 and February 2018, while he was employed by FedEx and Comcast. Between them, the government alleges, the defendants received a total of $37,127 of unemployment compensation on days when they knew they were not eligible for it.
The United States filed lawsuits against Culberson, Abele, and Billups under the False Claims Act, which provides for three times the government’s damages plus civil penalties for each false claim. To resolve these matters, the defendants each agreed to enter into a consent judgment subject to the Court’s approval that would resolve the matter without litigation.
The claims resolved by the settlements announced today are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.
“Unemployment benefits, no matter if they are administered by the government, a union, or a private entity, are very plainly meant to help individuals through a difficult time while unemployed, not as slush fund from which to obtain surplus income,” said U.S. Attorney Romero. “We will continue to work with all of our investigative partners and use every tool at our disposal to remediate this type of fraud.”
The allegations arose from investigations led by the Railroad Retirement Board Office of Inspector General in Philadelphia. The cases are being handled by Assistant United States Attorney Lauren DeBruicker.