Big Mistake — Chicago dentist reassigns embezzler instead of firing her — creates big issues when she claims unemployment


Being a busy and prominent dentist specializing in children`s trembling mouths, Marvin Berman needed an efficient office manager.

He has seven chairs and nine employees.

And for five years, he was delighted with Debra`s performance as office manager. She was cheerful, punctual and diligent.

Then a problem arose, as can happen in the happiest of offices.

Debra went on vacation. And while she was gone, Berman noticed something strange about the bookkeeping. Some of the numbers didn`t add up.

So he brought in an accountant. And what didn’t add up was about $135,000 in cash payments from patients over five years.

Debra, it turned out, had been skimming and juggling the books to cover it up.

When she returned from vacation, the cops came by the clinic in the Sauganash neighborhood and told her she was under arrest for embezzlement.

By then, Berman had talked to his attorney. And the attorney told him not to fire Debra. Nowadays, you can`t be too careful about firing people, even suspected embezzlers. You might have a federal or state agency on your back. Maybe even the United Nations.

So Berman assigned Debra to another job, where she wouldn’t be near the cash or the kids.

But she didn`t come back to work, which is understandable. There might have been tensions during the coffee break.

A couple of weeks after Debra was nabbed, Berman received a form from the state informing him that Debra had applied for unemployment compensation.

Berman knew that because he was Debra’s last employer, if he didn’t provide a good reason for her being unemployed, he would be stuck with part of the tab.

He filed a protest, saying: “This former employee should not be getting any money whatsoever. She is presently being investigated by the state`s attorney`s office for embezzlement of over $130,000. She has made a confession! I am not paying anything!”

So the paper game began. It was one form or one letter or one form letter after another.

Some of them are real bureaucratic prizes. For example:

“If, with respect to the above individual, you receive a Form BIS-31, Notice to Last Employing Unit, a Form BIS-305, Notice to Chargeable Employer or Other Interested Party, in which the base period ending date differs from the base period ending date indicated above, submit another BIS-22, Notice of Possible Ineligibility, in accordance with 56 Illinois Administrative Code, Chapter IV, Section 2720.130.”

Try figuring that one out after you spend a long day having your fingers chomped by wailing 4-year-olds.

A week or so passed, and Berman received a form letter telling him that his protest had been denied.

“Since the reason for which the claimant was discharged did not constitute a deliberate or willful disregard of the employer’s interest, the claimant was discharged not for misconduct connected with the work.

“Therefore, this determination finds the claimant eligible for benefits.”

To which Berman said: “Huh?” If pocketing $135,000 wasn’t “misconduct connected with the work,” what would she have to do-pluck out Berman`s eyes? So he protested again, telling them that a long police report stated that Debra had confessed but wanted to cut a deal with Berman. Maybe give some of the money back.

Berman refused to deal.

The state sent him another letter. Yes, the young lady had been arrested, had been indicted, and was awaiting trial on a felony rap.

But that was not sufficient reason to deny her unemployment benefits.

As one of the letters from a bureaucrat said: “The claimant has not admitted an act of theft connected with the work to a representative of the Director (of the unemployment department). An admission signed by the claimant has not been submitted. The claimant has not been convicted in a court of competent jurisdiction.

“Therefore, the claimant`s benefit rights based upon wages earned prior to the discharge may not be denied.”

See? Debra was no fool. She didn’t walk in to the state office and say:

“Hi, I’d like some comp, but I want to sign a paper admitting that I filched 135 big ones from my last boss.”

So the paper game went on. Berman protested, some other bureaucrat gave him a protest number, his protest was reviewed and denied. And another protest was reviewed and denied.

Meanwhile, Debra’s felony case dragged its way through the crowded court system. A few months ago, a judge found her guilty. She received probation and is supposed to make restitution, but Berman isn’t holding his breath until he sees that $135,000 again.

And recently Berman received still another letter from the bureaucrats.

This one informed him that his unemployment insurance rates were more than quadrupling-to $3,654 a year from $756.

That’s because the premiums go up when there are more claims. So his went up because Debra had filed a claim and collected.

Laughing rather giddily, Berman said: “Why should I pay for it? What did I do? I’m the victim.

“She steals $135,000 from me. I spend $1,000 on a handwriting expert just to be sure it’s her. I leave work many times to attend hearings at the unemployment office and in court, and that costs me money. I have to pay a lawyer and an accountant.

“And now, to add insult to injury, they push my rates up several thousand dollars. What’s going on here?”

Hey, I can’t stand a whiner. Consider yourself lucky, doc. Debra hasn’t sued you, has she?

At least not yet.

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