Cheating BWC proves costly to workers, business owners

A North Canton woman convicted in May of workers’ compensation fraud must reimburse the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation nearly $22,000 for collecting benefits while working as a home health aide for nearly two years.

A Franklin County judge on Wednesday also sentenced Diana S. Herrick to five years probation in lieu of an eight-month jail sentence for committing the fifth-degree felony. BWC’s Special Investigations Department (SID) found Herrick provided numerous activities for two individuals while claiming to be too injured to work, including household chores, meal preparation, cleaning and shopping.

“I cannot stress this message enough: Cheating BWC will only cost you more in the long run,” said SID director Jim Wernecke. “It could land you a significant financial debt and criminal record, as well as damage to your reputation and potential for future employment.”

Tyrone Bonner

Also this week, the owner of a Columbus security business pleaded guilty to failure to comply with workers’ compensation laws, a second-degree misdemeanor, after investigators found he under-reported his payroll for four years in order to pay less in BWC premiums. A Franklin County judge on Monday ordered Tyrone Bonner of Dayton to pay BWC $9,527 in restitution.

On the same day in a different Franklin County courtroom, Michael Strickland of Sandusky County pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of workers’ compensation fraud after BWC found him delivering mail while collecting injured-worker benefits. He paid BWC $5,096 in restitution prior to his court appearance.

Ghandi Faraj

In other news, SID reported closing several criminal cases in June and one in May not previously publicized.

  • Ghandi Faraj of Lorain pleaded guilty June 30 to a first-degree misdemeanor of workers’ compensation fraud after BWC found him operating a Quizno’s restaurant without BWC coverage when one of his employees filed a claim for a workplace injury. A judge sentenced Faraj to two years of non-reporting probation and ordered him to pay BWC $10,487 in restitution and stay compliant with workers’ comp requirements.
  • Darrin Armstrong of Cincinnati pleaded guilty June 15 to a first-degree misdemeanor theft charge after SID found him using his wife’s BWC debit card multiple times after her death. The investigation found 62 transactions between December 2015 and February 2016 totaling over $4,400. A Hamilton County judge placed Armstrong on eleven months probation and ordered him to reimburse BWC $2,715.
  • Latoria Johnson of Columbus pleaded guilty on June 27 to a misdemeanor count of workers’ compensation fraud after BWC found her working at Worldwide Marketing, Hot Topic and Kroger while simultaneously collecting temporary total disability benefits. She reimbursed BWC $5,307.27 prior to sentencing.
  • Cindi Hackney of Columbus pleaded guilty June 13 to one count of failure to comply, a second-degree misdemeanor, after BWC found her operating her pizza restaurant without BWC coverage. She was ordered to pay a fine and court costs totaling $163. She also paid approximately $5,000 toward her BWC debt.
  • Richard Allison of Columbus pleaded guilty to a first-degree misdemeanor of workers’ compensation fraud after investigators found him working for five separate employers over 13 months while collecting BWC benefits. A judge on June 6 sentenced Allison to five years probation in lieu of a six-month jail term and ordered him to pay $5,149 in restitution to BWC.
  • Mohamad Awad of Toledo, doing business as Everlasting LLC, paid almost $1,000 toward his BWC balance before pleading guilty June 5 in a Toledo courtroom to failure to comply, a second-degree misdemeanor. BWC agents had previously made multiple attempts to bring Awad into workers’ compensation compliance but were unsuccessful.
  • Steve Makris of Canton paid BWC $23,943 in restitution after pleading guilty May 26 to a first-degree misdemeanor of workers’ compensation fraud. Investigators found Makris formed a new business, Eagle Industrial Painting, and collected a salary while receiving benefits from BWC.

To report suspected workers’ compensation fraud, call 1-800-644-6292 or visit bwc.ohio.gov.

Former police officer indicted on work comp fraud and other charges related to shooting incident

A former Ohio police officer is facing multiple charges, including inducing panic, forgery and workers’ compensation fraud, after claiming and later recanting that he was shot in the arm during a traffic stop, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced this week.

A Tuscarawas County grand jury indicted Bryan Eubanks, 37, of Cumberland, Ohio, on June 29. It charged the fired 14-year veteran of the Newcomerstown Police Department with the following:

  • One count of inducing panic, a felony of the fifth degree;
  • One count of making false alarms, a felony of the fifth degree;
  • Two counts of tampering with evidence, felonies of the third degree;
  • One count of forgery, a felony of the fifth degree, and
  • One count of workers’ compensation fraud, a misdemeanor of the first degree.

The charges of inducing panic and making false alarms each carry two firearm specifications.

An investigation conducted by the Tuscarawas County Sheriff’s Office found that on April 11, 2017, then-Officer Eubanks shot himself while on duty, but claimed he was shot by a man in a vehicle after stopping the car for a traffic violation.

“The fictional story that this defendant is accused of concocting led to a response involving local, state, and federal authorities, and an Ohio Blue Alert was issued to put the entire state on alert,” said Attorney General DeWine. “Considerable resources were used to investigate the claims, and there must be consequences for needlessly causing such serious alarm.”

Additionally, an investigation by the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation found that Eubanks forged workers’ compensation documents to apply for benefits related to his injury.

According to the TimesReporter.com, Eubanks told investigators he made up the story to cover up a failed suicide attempt. He said he had been struggling emotionally following a murder investigation last year.

Eubanks’ arraignment is scheduled for July 17.

Spotlight on SID’s college relations program

Developing tomorrow’s leaders in criminal justice, law enforcement

By Jeff Baker, Program Administrator, BWC Special Investigations Department

Interested in getting coffee? Making photocopies?

You won’t find that at the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation’s (BWC) Special Investigations Department (SID). SID interns are real employees who do real work as part of our college relations program, now in its 23rd year.

“We’re treated like coworkers,” says Ohio State University student Gabby Master, an intern in SID’s intelligence unit. “We do all the projects everyone else does.”

On top of all that, she adds, “It’s really fun!”

(You can catch Gabby sharing more about her intern experience in this YouTube video.)

Established in 1995, SID’s college relations program promotes the study and practice of criminology, criminal justice, law enforcement and public administration. Since its inception, SID has recruited, selected, oriented and trained more than 300 paid college interns.

Gabby Master, Kelsey Wilson, Loryn Competti and Brianna Belmonte

Many have humbled us with favorable feedback over the years, but we know the credit and accolades go to them. Their careers are testament to their professionalism.

Many have gone on to become officers, criminal investigators, special agents, fraud analysts, digital forensic analysts, assistant special agents in charge, special agents in charge and assistant director.

We’re pleased that for more than 20 years our college relations program has attracted students from a variety of backgrounds, schools and experiences.

Today we have seven talented interns working with our special investigations units (SIUs) statewide. Four college interns (pictured above) are based in our Columbus headquarters: Gabby Master, Kelsey Wilson, Loryn Competti and Brianna Belmonte. Our other SID interns (not pictured) are Allison Castle (Lima), Stephen Kersey (Toledo) and Connor Yuellig (Governor’s Hill).

These interns are here for the same reasons that our past interns have worked with SID. They want a challenge, and that’s what they get.

“Our interns have helped us tremendously over the years,” says SID Director Jim Wernecke. “Their work has helped us convict hundreds of fraudsters and saved the BWC system tens of millions of dollars.”

Are you enrolled at a college or university and interested in joining our team as an intern? If so, I invite you to contact me at Jeffrey.B.1@bwc.state.oh.us.

Northeast Ohio man reports crime, gets arrested

Stark County tree service owner convicted of work comp fraud

COLUMBUS — When James Glen Willis called police to report a theft from his vehicle in May, police made a quick arrest — of Willis himself.

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Willis, of Jackson Twp. in Stark County, apparently didn’t know there was a warrant out for his arrest for committing workers’ compensation fraud. He spent three days in jail and pleaded guilty to the first-degree misdemeanor on May 30 in the Stark County Court of Common Pleas. A judge ordered him to two years of good behavior in lieu of a 180-day jail sentence and gave him credit for three days served.

“Who knows when Mr. Willis would have faced justice had someone not broken into his truck,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s Special Investigation Department. “Not that I’m glad a crime occurred, but the warrant for his arrest was issued a year ago following his indictment by a Stark County grand jury.”

Willis, 47, is the owner of G and D Tree Service. BWC agents started looking at him in 2013 while investigating one of his employees for workers’ comp fraud. They found Willis’s BWC coverage had lapsed in March that year but he continued to operate without coverage. Willis admitted to having one part-time employee, while BWC surveillance discovered a regular crew of four to six employees.

Willis has since paid BWC $8,000 toward the balance he owes the agency.

In other fraud news, a former Toledo man convicted in May for stealing from BWC was sentenced June 23 to three years of community control in lieu of a 10-month jail sentence.

Herbert Christopher, who pleaded guilty May 4 to fifth-degree felony theft charge, also must pay BWC $32,752 in restitution in monthly payments of at least $200. BWC agents found Christopher working as a home inspector in Tennessee while receiving BWC benefits.

“Our Special Investigations Department is here to ensure our workers’ compensation system is as strong, fair and honest as it can be,” said Wernecke. “Anyone who cheats the system is just raising the costs for everyone else and taking resources needed by those who legitimately need it.”

To report suspected workers’ compensation fraud, call 1-800-644-6292 or visit bwc.ohio.gov.

BWC secures 11 convictions in May

Ohioans convicted in May of workers’ compensation fraud and related charges include a Cleveland-area man serving time in a federal prison on corruption charges, a former Toledo man working as a home inspector in Tennessee and two men who claimed to be permanently disabled but were earning tens of thousands of dollars working for themselves.

“These cases demonstrate our resolve to stop workers’ compensation fraud and protect the State Insurance Fund,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Sarah Morrison. “Whether you’re in prison or working in another state, we will find you, we will prosecute you and we will recover the funds you improperly acquired so they can be used for those who are legitimately injured on the job.”

As of May 31, BWC’s Special Investigations Department had secured 64 convictions this year on charges related to cheating the workers’ compensation system. Starting with the most recent convictions, May’s cases include:

Richard Claffey of Columbus, Working and Receiving
Claffey pleaded guilty on May 31 to a fifth-degree felony charge of workers’ compensation fraud after investigators found he had collected and sold 46 tons of scrap metal during a time he purported to be disabled.  He was sentenced to five years of community control and ordered to pay $35,000 in restitution to BWC.

Abdikani Diini, dba Aarans Business Center, of Columbus, No Coverage
Diini pleaded guilty May 25 to one count of failure to comply, a second-degree misdemeanor, after investigators found his policy had lapsed shortly after he worked with BWC to reinstate it.

A judge ordered Diini to pay the full balance owed to BWC, $1,021.

Daniel McClellan of the village of Coalton, Working and Receiving
McClellan pleaded guilty May 24 to a first-degree misdemeanor charge of workers’ compensation fraud after BWC investigators found him working multiple jobs while collecting temporary disability benefits for a workplace injury he suffered as a roofer in 2009. A judge ordered McClellan to pay BWC $11,875 in restitution and $4,000 for the cost of its investigation.

Jimmie Rankin of Marion, Working and Receiving
Rankin owes BWC $160,000 after pleading guilty May 17 to a fourth-degree felony charge of workers’ compensation fraud. Rankin, who claimed to be permanently disabled, was also sentenced to five years of community control for collecting BWC benefits after he had gone back to work in the construction industry and deliberately withheld that information from BWC.

Fernando Cruz of Maineville, Working and Receiving
Cruz claimed to be permanently disabled from work while earning more than $100,000 preparing tax returns. He owes BWC nearly $57,000 in restitution after pleading guilty May 12 to a fifth-degree felony conviction for workers’ compensation fraud. A judge also sentenced him to five years of community control.

Herbert Christopher of Shelbyville, Tennessee, Working and Receiving
Christopher, formerly of Toledo, pleaded guilty May 4 in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to one count of theft, a fifth-degree felony, after investigators found him working as a home inspector in Tennessee. Sentencing is scheduled for June 23.

Leon Watson of Toledo, dba Leon and Terry Enterprise, Lapsed Coverage
Watson pleaded guilty May 4 to a minor misdemeanor count of failure to comply and was ordered to pay $99 in court costs. Watson made payments totaling $4,481 to the Ohio Attorney General’s office, resolving the balance due on his BWC policy and resulting in the reinstatement of the policy.

Diane Herrick of North Canton, Working and Receiving
Herrick pleaded guilty May 2 to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a fifth-degree felony, after investigators found her working as a home health aide while receiving BWC benefits. The investigation found Herrick collecting nearly $22,000 while providing numerous activities for two individuals, including household chores, meal preparation, cleaning and shopping. A restitution hearing has been set for June 28.

Kandice Klink Jones of Columbus, Working and Receiving
Jones pleaded guilty May 1 to a fifth-degree count of workers’ compensation fraud after investigators found her working for four separate employers while collecting BWC benefits. She was ordered to pay BWC $12,938 in restitution and sentenced to five years of community control.

James Todt of Brecksville, Working and Receiving
Already serving time in prison on corruption charges, Todt pleaded guilty May 1 to a fifth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud after investigators found he had collected $33,400 from BWC while working in the construction industry. He was sentenced to nine months in prison, to be served concurrently with his current sentence.

To report suspected workers’ compensation fraud, call 1-800-644-6292 or visit bwc.ohio.gov.

Bar owner ignores BWC debt, then pays after liquor agents raid bar

Southwest Ohio man guilty of ‘failure to comply’

A Hamilton bar owner who refused to cooperate with the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) over his lapsed coverage entered a repayment plan with BWC after state liquor control agents raided his bar in early April and seized cash and liquor.

The workers’ compensation coverage for Alleys on the River in Hamilton is now active and in compliance, but owner Michael E. Larkin, 53, has a criminal conviction on his record now after pleading guilty May 31 to a second-degree misdemeanor count of failure to comply. A Hamilton municipal judge fined him $150, sentenced him to two years of community control and ordered that $1,000 of the cash seized in the raid be applied to his BWC debt.

“We made several attempts to help Mr. Larkin bring his lapsed BWC policy into compliance, but he wouldn’t work with us. He didn’t even show up in court for his arraignment after we pressed charges,” said Dan Fodor, assistant director of BWC’s Special Investigations Department (SID). “We subsequently referred his case to the Ohio Liquor Control Commission because he wasn’t meeting his obligation to his employees to carry workers’ comp coverage, which is required by state law.”

The commission suspended Alleys’ liquor license in May 2016, but agents with the Ohio Investigative Unit raided the business on April 6 this year after learning it was still selling alcohol. Agents seized $2,600 in liquor proceeds and nearly 1,500 bottles and cans of beer and liquor. Larkin started his payment plan with BWC the next day, and he has since regained his liquor license.

Fodor said this case illustrates the importance of employers working with BWC to resolve their compliance issues, rather than ignoring them altogether.

“Our employer fraud team actively investigates those that try to cheat the system,” he said. “BWC offers a number of programs that could potentially lower an employer’s premiums. They just need to call and work with us, because ignoring or defying their obligations will only cost them more in the long run.”

To report suspected workers’ compensation fraud, call 1-800-644-6292 or visit bwc.ohio.gov.

Metal scrapper, business owner guilty of work comp fraud

A Columbus man on disability benefits for a workplace injury must reimburse the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) $35,000 after investigators found him collecting and selling 46 tons of scrap metal during a time he purported to be disabled.

Richard Claffey, 53, pleaded guilty Wednesday to a fifth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. In addition to restitution, he must serve five years of community control in lieu of six months in prison.

“An anonymous source told us Mr. Claffey was ‘junking’ everyday, picking up refrigerators and stoves and driving through alleys every evening to collect metal and sell it to local scrap yards,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s Special Investigations Department (SID). “Some might call ‘junking’ more of a hobby than a profession, but we found Mr. Claffey made a living from these efforts, which disqualified him from receiving BWC benefits.”

Claffey suffered a workplace injury in 2010 while working for a landscaping company.

In other fraud news, a Carroll County business owner with lapsed BWC coverage pleaded guilty to workers’ comp fraud after failing to bring his business into compliance despite multiple efforts by BWC staff to help him do so. Investigators found the owner even changed the name of his business and applied for new coverage to avoid paying his BWC debt.

Warren Kelm, owner of Augering Technologies/Coal Auger Pro Inc.,  pleaded guilty to the first-degree misdemeanor April 20 and paid $14,515 toward the balance he owes to BWC.

“We appreciate the financial challenges of running a business, but if an employer is falling behind on their BWC premiums, they need to call us and we’ll work with them,” said SID Director Wernecke. “Cutting corners or trying to cheat the system will always cost them more in the long run.”

Kelm is now operating with proper coverage. A judge sentenced him to three years of community control in lieu of six months in jail.

To report suspected workers’ compensation fraud, call 1-800-644-6292 or visit bwc.ohio.gov.