The state of Michigan, under fire for a computer system that wrongly churned out cases of fraud, is dropping criminal charges against 186 people accused of illegally collecting unemployment benefits, officials said Thursday.
Wanda Stokes, head of the department that oversees jobless benefits, said the cases are being dropped while "we are taking a comprehensive review of everything we do."
Charges and arrest warrants are being dismissed against 186 people, all but 10 in Detroit. The others are in Genesee and Macomb counties. Charges will be pursued again only after a closer review of the files.
"This is done out of an abundance of caution and in the interest of justice," Stokes said.
Over a two-year period, Governor Rick Snyder's administration mostly relied on a computer system to flag thousands of people who were accused of collecting excessive unemployment benefits. They were hit with penalties, wage garnishments and lost tax refunds — before the state admitted it was wrong.
The state has said more than $16 million has been or will be returned to Michigan residents. A review of 50,000 fraud determinations is almost finished.
Dave Murray, a spokesman for the Department of Talent and Economic Development, said he didn't know how many people ended up with criminal charges.
Jennifer Lord, an attorney who has been leading a class-action lawsuit against the state, said she's "completely outraged" that the state didn't act sooner in the 186 cases.
"They've been targeting a large group of people with the least amount of resources to fight back," Lord said.
Separately, the Michigan appeals court this week ruled in favor of the Snyder administration in Lord's lawsuit. The court said people wrongly accused of fraud waited too long to sue the state.