LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDB) -- As thousands of Kentucky residents waited for help, some workers in the state's unemployment office were gaming the system to help themselves.

At least 19 state workers lied to collect unemployment benefits, essentially stealing more than $54,000 from the state and federal governments. That's according to a report by the state inspector general obtained by the Lexington Herald-Leader

The newspaper reports that the majority of those state workers were employed at the Office of Unemployment Insurance or the Unemployment Insurance Commission and were assigned to help process pandemic-related unemployment claims.

It also reports that the state workers never lost their full-time government jobs, but filed for benefits based on part-time jobs.

Some filed claims for lost part-time jobs that didn't actually exist, while others filed claims for part-time jobs that did exist — but were never really lost. For example, one employee claimed he lost his part-time job as a basketball coach, but the season ended before the pandemic and he had already been paid.

Gov. Andy Beshear addressed the report during his regular COVID-19 news conference on Thursday from the Capitol in Frankfort, calling the claims "unethical" and "unacceptable."

"When we learned that some employees might have been getting on the systems themselves to process their own unemployment claims it was absolutely unacceptable," he said. "I think it's unethical and I asked the inspector general to do a full and independent investigation and get us that information."

Beshear said some of the employees have been fired, based on the level of their actions. He's also had some inquiries from prosecutors about criminal charges being filed.

"Significant action has been taken including termination of some of those individuals depending on the culpability of them and the level of their actions," he said. "It's people taking advantage of their position and it was not okay and it denigrates the hard work of every other UI employee that showed up to do the right thing each and every day."

He said his hope is that the response to the investigation by his office builds trust in Kentuckians still waiting on unemployment benefits.

"What I tell everybody who's waiting is, we don't accept this type of behavior. And that's why we not only ordered the investigation but we released the report itself and we took action," Beshear said. "Sadly, any place that there are dollars and there is access you sometimes see these things. It's how we respond to it that I hope builds trust amongst Kentuckians."

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