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Blas v. State, Department of Labor and Workforce Development

Supreme Court of Alaska

August 8, 2014

LEO BLAS, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF ALASKA, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT, DIVISION OF EMPLOYMENT SECURITY, Appellee.

Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, No. 3AN-12-08710 CI Anchorage, Kevin M. Saxby, Judge.

Leo Blas, pro se, Chugiak, Appellant.

Aesha Pallesen, Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and Michael C. Geraghty, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee.

Before Fabe, Chief Justice, Winfree, Stowers, Maassen, and Bolger, Justices.

OPINION

STOWERS, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

The Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Division of Employment Security (the Division) determined that Leo Blas committed fraud when he failed to report that he worked and traveled during weeks he claimed and received unemployment benefits. Blas presented no contrary evidence disputing these findings and this conclusion. We affirm the superior court's decision to uphold the Division's decision to reduce and deny Blas's receipt of unemployment benefits and to disqualify him from receiving benefits for 52 weeks.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

A. Facts

Leo Blas is a highly educated accountant by profession; he also trained and worked as a life insurance agent. Blas collected unemployment benefits on and off for several years through the Division under the Alaska Employment Security Act.[1] On March 17, 2010, the Division's Benefit Payment Control Unit issued a determination of disqualification to Blas based on his failure to report work and travel while he was unemployed and receiving unemployment benefits. On February 16, 2011, a Division Appeal Tribunal partially reversed this determination, but held that "the facts reveal . . . [Blas withheld] material information about . . . one week of travel and two weeks of employment in November 2009" and "did so with the intent to receive unentitled benefits during those three weeks."[2]

This appeal concerns Blas's alleged failure to report work and travel in 2011 and 2012. Blas applied for unemployment benefits in 2011 for the weeks ending July 16, July 23, August 13, August 20, September 3, September 10, September 17, November 26, December 3, December 10, December 17, December 24, and December 31. He also applied for benefits in 2012 for the weeks ending January 14 and January 21. During these weeks, Blas worked for Vision Alaska I, LLC, d/b/a Coastal Television Broadcasting Company, as a contract and then salaried employee, and then at Harley's Auto Park as a salaried employee. Although required to report travel to the Division when filing for benefits, Blas traveled to Moscow, Idaho and back to Anchorage on November 22-23, 2011, and did not report it.

B. Proceedings

The Division commenced two proceedings against Blas.[3]

1. The first proceeding

On April 16, 2012, the Division's Benefit Payment Control Unit issued a notice of determination to Blas because employer records showed that he had earnings during 13 weeks he had received unemployment benefits.[4] This determination relied on a recorded, in-person interview with Blas where he admitted that he began working as an accounting clerk on a contract basis for Coastal Television in July 2011. Blas also admitted that he became a salaried employee of Coastal Television on July 28, 2011. Blas also agreed that he became a salaried employee of Harley's Auto Park on December 1, 2011. The determination stated: "You reviewed the . . . [previous] decision from the Appeals Tribunal . . . issued [February 16, 2011] in [your] case. You agreed that you were advised . . . that you must report your work and earnings whether you had been paid or not." Blas disputed that the previous February 16, 2011 decision of the Appeal Tribunal found him to have fraudulently applied for benefits in 2010.

When asked why he answered "no" to the question "Did you work for any employer?" on his online weekly certifications seeking unemployment benefits, Blas answered that he had received a letter from the Division that informed him he was owed Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits for 2007, and he declined to report his work and earnings because he was underpaid and "the Division owed him money." Blas was then asked whether he knew that, by answering "no, " he was certifying to false information. Blas stated that he was "not sure." Blas also stated that after the Division deducted the amount of the Emergency Unemployment ...


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