With jobless rates still running between eight and nine percent, nearly 200,000 Oregonians are out of work and collecting unemployment benefits.
It also turns out that some of those people are wanted by police and prosecutors, and they’re still collecting taxpayers-funded pay every week.
KATU Investigative Reporter Thom Jensen spoke with one woman who said a system that pays known fugitives while they are on the run from the law is a broken system.
“You trust in the system to go and help you and to see that they’re not doing much to help your case … it bothers me a lot,” Maggie said.
Maggie is not her real name, but KATU agreed to conceal her identity to protect her daughter.
Salem Police and the Marion County District Attorney’s office say a man named Gabriel Diaz repeatedly sexually assaulted Maggie’s daughter in 2010.
Diaz never showed up for his trial in January and he has been on the run from justice ever since.
Despite his fugitive status, Diaz is still collecting unemployment pay of $342 each week. That’s nearly $18,000 a year.
Public records show dozens of $342 payments to Diaz over the course of a year.
A spokesman for the Oregon Employment Division says he can’t talk specifically about Diaz’s unemployment benefits.
“The only people that we can talk to about a claim is the claimant themselves,” Craig Spivey told KATU.
But that is not entirely true.
Spivey admits the Employment Division can talk to police about Diaz, because Diaz is a fugitive.
It’s up to police or prosecutors to ask for unemployment benefit information from the division and neither the Salem Police Department nor the Marion County District Attorney’s Office has requested information on Diaz.
Spivey said he is not surprised because law enforcement agencies rarely request the information on wanted people.
“We may get one or two requests a year for information from a law enforcement agency,” he said.
A spokesman for the Salem Police Department would not comment specifically on the Diaz case either. He said the unemployment benefit request is just one tool among many a police department can use to locate fugitives.
Lt. Dave Okada said the department put Diaz on its “10 most wanted” list with his picture on wanted posters around the Salem area.
He said the wanted posters are one of the most effective tools the department uses.
“We’ve had about 94 people featured and I think 67 have been captured,” Okada said.
Even if investigators do request the unemployment data, it doesn’t guarantee they’ll find a lead on Diaz.
Most unemployment recipients in Oregon receive their weekly payments with direct deposits in the state’s ReliaCard system. Fugitives who use the ReliaCard are difficult to track because they can get their money at ATMs anywhere.
Maggie said that might be, but she wants the police and prosecutors to ask for the information anyway and try to use it to find Diaz.
“I just want justice. I just want to be able to sleep at night and for my daughter to be able to sleep,” she said. “Our tax dollars are paying for him to be out on the streets.”
And, Maggie said, as long as Diaz is on the streets and collecting taxpayer-funded pay from the state, she and her daughter will suffer.
She argued that at the very least, police should go after information showing which ATMs Diaz uses most frequently.
“I think they should subpoena it and find out where he’s at and where he’s using that card,” she said.