Auditor’s Office Announces Operation Payback and Secures First Indictment

May 16, 2024

JACKSON – Today State Auditor Shad White announced his office has been conducting a detailed investigation into unemployment compensation fraud called Operation Payback and has secured their first indictment associated with the operation.

“My office found that during COVID, Mississippi handed out over half a billion dollars in illegal unemployment compensation payments,” said White. “It’s tragic to think about what that money could have gone to instead. And much of it went to out-of-state fraudsters that we’ll never catch. But for the criminals who can be identified, we’re going to drop the hammer.”

Operation Payback is different from most other investigations in the State Auditor’s office because of a unique data analytics tool that auditors used. With advanced machine learning, auditors were able to track some of the misspent unemployment funds and identify suspicious activity.

“For example, advanced software tools combed millions of unemployment compensation payments and identified perpetrators who may have close associations,” said White. “When we dug into these, it was obvious some had conspired to defraud the system.”

On May 15th, Kenjarell Thomas was served with a 59 count indictment. That includes 19 counts of identity theft, 20 counts of fraudulent representation to defraud the government, and 20 counts of wire fraud. Thomas was in prison while allegedly applying for unemployment benefits using multiple other prisoners personal information and using his mother’s address to receive the payments.

All persons arrested by the Mississippi Office of the State Auditor are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

Suspected fraud can be reported to the Auditor’s office online at any time by clicking the red button at or calling 1-(800)-321-1275 during normal business hours.