A former employee of the Department of Economic Security has pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from a Los Angeles-area debt collection company in exchange for confidential information about unemployment insurance beneficiaries.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced on Monday that Leslie Gene Nelson, 59, pleaded guilty to one count of bribery, which has a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Nelson’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 24. Federal prosecutors are recommending three years’ probation and 500 hours of community service.
According to his indictment and plea agreement, Michael S. Flowers, a debt collector for Professional Collection Consultants, of Culver City, Calif., paid Nelson about $26,000 between 2010 and 2013, which was deposited into a California bank account in $500 increments. In exchange, Flowers would provide Nelson with Social Security numbers for people with outstanding debts, and Nelson would provide confidential information from state and federal databases used to process unemployment insurance benefits, which included information on people’s employers and quarterly earnings.
Flowers was able to collect about $947,000 in debts as a result of the information he obtained from Nelson, and earned about $90,000 in commission, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Elisa Fernandez, who prosecuted the cases against Flowers, Nelson and Professional Collection Consultants.
Fernandez said the case came to the attention of federal prosecutors after another employer of Professional Collection Consultants became suspicious about how Flowers was able to service so many more debts than other collectors. In the course of the investigation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for central California found that Flowers had been paying Nelson for information.
Flowers and Professional Collection Consultants both pleaded guilty in 2018 to one count of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery. Flowers was sentenced to three years’ probation, while the company forfeited the $947,000 in debt it recovered and paid $350,000 in fines. The company has since dissolved. Fernandez emphasized that Nelson will never again be able to work for a federal agency or most state agencies.
DES fired Nelson in 2013 after federal prosecutors uncovered the bribery scheme. Fernandez said prosecutors focused on recovering the money from Professional Collection Consultants, which delayed the actual criminal charges until late 2017 for the company and 2018 for Flowers and Nelson.