Columbus – A South Euclid (Cuyahoga County) woman was ordered to repay more than $32,000 in connection with working while collecting workplace injury benefits. Laura Brown pleaded guilty April 9 in Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to workers’ compensation fraud, a fifth-degree felny.
“Ms. Brown’s employment was discovered through a cross-match report from the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Steve Buehrer. “We partner with other agencies and with the general public, and request that anyone who suspects workers’ compensation fraud contact us. Your tips are anonymous, and they assist us in our ongoing efforts to protect the State Insurance Fund.”
The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) received the cross-match report, which indicated that wages were reported for Brown in 2011 and 2012. Interviews and employment records enabled the SIU to confirm that Brown returned to work as a home health aide while receiving temporary total disability and living maintenance benefits.
Brown was ordered to repay $32,928.05 in restitution to the BWC. She was sentenced to serve 11 months in prison, which was suspended for five years of community control. If she violates the terms of community control, Brown will serve that time in prison.
To report suspected workers’ compensation fraud, call 1-800-644-6292 or visit bwc.ohio.gov. Check out our latest cases at ohiobwcfraud.wordpress.com, follow Fraud Fridays on Twitter @OhioBWCFraud, or join in the conversation at facebook.com/ohiobwcfraud. View and share BWC’s workers’ comp fraud awareness video on our YouTube channel.
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Hundreds of law enforcement professionals from around Ohio and the U.S. gathered yesterday in Columbus for the first Electronic Surveillance and Equipment Symposium. These investigative agencies came together to discuss the latest electronic surveillance tools and trends.
The event was co-sponsored by BWC’s Special Investigations Department and the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
Due to the sensitive nature of the information presented, the event was restricted to personnel from government and public law enforcement agencies.
Leading experts in the field presented information about cell phone tracking equipment, concealing cameras in everyday items, surveillance techniques and legal issues regarding electronic surveillance. More than two dozen vendors and law enforcement exhibitors were on hand for a trade fair as well.
Effective surveillance plays an important role in law enforcement and criminal investigations. This event provided a secure environment in which law enforcement professionals shared best practices and advice in hopes of strengthening our efforts to contribute to safer communities.
Thank you to all who participated in and made ESES14 a success!
Follow BWC’s Special Investigations Department on Twitter @OhioBWCFraud and on Facebook at facebook.com/ohiobwcfraud to stay up-to-date on our continuing efforts to detect, deter, investigate and prosecute all types of workers’ compensation fraud in Ohio.
Columbus – Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) Administrator/CEO Steve Buehrer today announced that seven individuals were convicted of, or pleaded guilty to, charges related to defrauding Ohio’s workers’ compensation system in March 2014. The court actions are the result of investigations conducted by BWC’s Special Investigations Department (SID). The department works to deter, detect, investigate and prosecute workers’ compensation fraud.
“Our agents conduct surveillance and perform investigations as part of our ongoing efforts to put an end to fraudulent activity,” Buehrer said. “We also actively discuss workers’ compensation fraud to shed light on the issue and make potential fraudsters think twice before they attempt to steal from the State Insurance Fund.”
The following case information represents a sampling of cases that resulted in guilty pleas or convictions during March.
Regina Whitman (Mentor, Lake County) pleaded guilty March 19 to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor, in connection with falsified wages. The Northeast Special Investigations Unit (SIU) received an allegation that she and her husband, Russell Whitman, had been arrested and charged with felony theft and were suspected of embezzling a large amount of money from the family business. Russell Whitman was receiving BWC benefits. The SIU found that Regina Whitman, the payroll manager for the family business, submitted false payroll records to BWC on behalf of her husband. While in jail in 2011 for the embezzlement charges, the couple conspired to conceal his incarceration from the BWC and to submit false documents to the BWC, so he would continue to receive benefits. Investigators reviewed telephone conversations between Russell and Regina while they were incarcerated and identified their conspiracy to commit fraud against BWC. As a result of this scheme, BWC overpaid Russell $3,287.47 in benefits. Regina Whitman was sentenced to six months of incarceration to run concurrent with her four-year sentence related to her part in the embezzlement of more than $285,000 from her family business.
Joseph Stapleton (Dayton, Montgomery County) pleaded guilty March 19 to falsification, a first-degree misdemeanor. In September 2013, Stapleton filed a claim, alleging he was assaulted by a hotel patron while working. A police report was obtained by SID indicating Stapleton was not involved in the incident with the patron and was not injured at work. Agents interviewed witnesses and confirmed that Stapleton was never involved in the altercation, and had no contact with the patron. Stapleton has been referred to the probation department and sentencing is scheduled for May 6.
David Becker (Germantown, Montgomery County) pleaded guilty March 24 to workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor, for working while receiving workplace injury benefits. SID received an allegation that Becker was operating a business from his home. Investigators found that Becker was operating an online tractor supply business from his home between October 2005 and June 2007 while collecting temporary total disability. During court, Becker paid $45,582.54 in restitution and investigative costs.
Dale Richards (Grove City, Franklin County) pleaded guilty March 12 to workers’ compensation fraud, a fifth-degree felony, for working while receiving workplace injury benefits. The Columbus SIU received an allegation that Richards was working while receiving BWC benefits. The investigation revealed that Richards was involved in construction and remodeling projects as well as selling scrap metal. Richards was ordered to pay $30,381.48 in restitution to the BWC. He was also sentenced to serve eight months at the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, which was suspended for three years of community control, as long as he doesn’t violate probation rules and pays restitution.
Christopher Steele (Reynoldsburg, Licking County) pleaded guilty March 5 to workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor. The Columbus SIU received an allegation that Steele was working while receiving BWC benefits. Steele was receiving both Living Maintenance (LM) and Working Wage Loss (WWL) benefits. Injured workers receiving LM are prohibited from working, while those receiving WWL are permitted to work, but must report earnings to determine benefit levels. The SIU obtained employment and payroll records, and confirmed that Steele worked as a carpenter and construction worker while receiving the LM compensation, and he didn’t report any earnings, resulting in a higher level of WWL benefits than he was entitled to receive. He was ordered to pay $7,680.54 in restitution by March 31, 2016. He was given 60 days in jail, which was suspended on the condition that he pay restitution in full. If he fails to do so, he will serve 60 days in the Franklin County Jail. All fines were waived and Steele was ordered to pay court costs. He made a $2,500 restitution payment after the hearing.
To report suspected workers’ compensation fraud, call 1-800-644-6292 or visit bwc.ohio.gov. Check out our latest cases on our fraud blog, ohiobwcfraud.wordpress.com, follow Fraud Fridays on Twitter @OhioBWCFraud, or join in the conversation at www.facebook.com/ohiobwcfraud. View and share BWC’s workers’ comp fraud awareness video on our YouTube channel.
Lonnie Mace, of New Plymouth (Hocking County), was sentenced April 3 for working while receiving workplace injury benefits. This follows his Feb. 26 guilty plea to a fifth-degree felony charge of workers’ compensation fraud in Franklin County Common Pleas Court.
An allegation was made following a cross match with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. Investigators learned that Mace was receiving permanent total disability benefits while employed as a commercial vehicle driver during a 2010 safety inspection. They found that Mace was employed by a trucking company prior to and while receiving workers’ compensation benefits. Mace’s benefits were terminated and a lump sum advancement of his benefits was declared overpaid, totaling $103,174.34 due to BWC.
Mace was ordered to pay that amount in restitution to the BWC. He was sentenced to 12 months in jail, which was suspended, and placed on community control for five years. If he violates the terms of community control, he will serve 12 months in jail.
David Morinello, of Cleveland (Cuyahoga County), pleaded guilty April 2 in Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to workers’ compensation fraud, a fifth-degree felony. He provided the court with a cashier’s check for $8,898.09, the entire amount of restitution.
A confidential source contacted BWC’s Northeast Regional Special Investigations Unit (SIU) to report that Morinello was working while receiving temporary total disability benefits. Injured workers are not permitted to work while receiving this type of benefit. The SIU obtained documented evidence to support the allegation, and determined that Morinello worked for an outdoor lighting business as well as his own outdoor lighting and design business while receiving temporary total benefits.
Morinello was fined $100 and ordered to pay court costs by June 20. He will be placed on probation if he does not pay.
The 2014 Ohio Safety Congress (OSC) came to a close yesterday and, in one of the final sessions, three supervisors from the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) Special Investigations Department (SID) gave their presentation on Workers’ Compensation fraud, its “red flags” and what employers can do if they are suspicious. . Over the two-day conference, SID staff twice presented “Workers’ Compensation: Do You Know if it’s Happening to You?” to a crowded room.
Special Agents in Charge (SACs) Phill Brickman, Shawn Fox, and Doug Fisher took turns presenting an overview of SID, who we are, and what we do. Attendees were presented a breakdown of all the types of complaints SID receives, as well as the differences between claimant, provider, and employer fraud.
Though a serious topic, the session wasn’t without humor. “Our investigators love finding fraud and some people just love talking about how clever they are, so it works out” quipped SAC Shawn Fox, referencing those who brag on Facebook or to their friends about their crime.
The trio also fielded a variety of questions from the audience. One attendee asked what the cost of one investigation is and if it’s even worth it. SAC Doug Fisher replied investigations are indeed worth the effort, sharing the fact that each dollar spent on investigative costs brings five dollars back to BWC.”
Another audience member relayed a story of a co-worker they suspected of filing a false claim and noted that had she known there was a dedicated fraud team in place at BWC, she would have dealt with her suspicion differently. While SID has been around for 20 years, we are still reminded that part of our mission is spreading awareness of who we are. “This is what we do,” stated SAC Phill Brickman, “we will go after every dollar and dime. Call us and put us to work.”
SID agents were eager to use their time presenting at OSC 2014 as an opportunity to explain workers’ compensation fraud and let employers know there is a dedicated team in place to combat fraud. When asked to summarize the purpose of the presentation in one sentence, SAC Fox offered that it was to “educate employers on what services the Special Investigations Department can provide to them to deter, investigate, and prosecute workers’ compensation fraud.”
Like maintaining a safe work environment, weeding out fraud and abuse of disability benefits may lead to lower premiums for employers and ensure that BWC remains an efficient system to aid those workers who are truly injured.
Columbus – A Grove City (Franklin County) man was ordered to pay more than $30,000 in restitution for working while collecting workplace injury benefits. Dale Richards pleaded guilty March 12 to workers’ compensation fraud, a fifth-degree felony, after an investigation by the Ohio Bureau of Workersâ€™ Compensation (BWC) revealed he was earning a living selling scrap metal.
“In addition to selling scrap metal, Mr. Richards also engaged in additional restricted work and physical activity,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Steve Buehrer. “An anonymous allegation put this investigation into motion. We take these allegations very seriously because they often help us put an end to fraud cases like this one.”
The Columbus Special Investigations Unit (SIU) received an allegation that Richards was working while receiving BWC benefits. The investigation showed that Richards was involved in construction and remodeling projects as well as selling scrap metal. He sold 74 tons of scrap metal in Columbus from 2009 to 2012 while receiving temporary total disability benefits.
Richards was ordered to pay $30,381.48 in restitution to the BWC. He was also sentenced to serve eight months at the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, which was suspended for three years of community control as long as he doesn’t violate probation rules and pays restitution.
To report suspected workers’ compensation fraud, call 1-800-644-6292 or visit bwc.ohio.gov.