BWC fraud investigators secure 7 convictions in July

The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation secured seven convictions in July of employers and injured workers who attempted to cheat the agency.

The cases raise the year’s total convictions for BWC’s special investigations department (SID) to 90.

“Workers’ compensation fraud raises the cost of the system for everyone involved,” said SID Director Jim Wernecke. “I hope these latest convictions serve as a reminder to those attempting to steal from BWC: We have investigators all over the state. We will find you, bring you to justice and make you repay the funds you illicitly acquired.”

Those convicted last month include:

Robert Leonard of Niles, Ohio, and McMenamy’s LLC
A Trumbull County judge on July 31 found Leonard guilty of one misdemeanor count of attempted workers’ compensation fraud and his restaurant guilty of a fourth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud. Leonard failed to comply with repeated attempts by BWC to reinstate lapsed coverage for his business, McMenamy’s LLC. Leonard paid full restitution to BWC in the amount of $13,224.

Donna Roethlisberger of Lima, Ohio
Roethlisberger, doing business as Complete Cleaning of NWO, pleaded guilty July 20 to two counts of tampering with records, both third-degree felonies, after investigators found she obtained BWC certificates of coverage under her employees’ names without their knowledge. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 30 in the Putnam County Court of Common Pleas.

Joseph Stewart of Titusville, Florida
Stewart pleaded guilty July 20 in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor, after investigators found him assembling countertops, kitchen cabinets and a display case for a market in Toledo while collecting temporary total disability benefits. A judge ordered Stewart to serve five days in jail, five years of community control and to pay restitution of $4,160 to BWC.

James Teynor of Bucyrus, Ohio
Teynor pleaded guilty July 13 to workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor, after investigators found he had returned to work as a driver while collecting temporary total disability benefits. He was sentenced to one day jail (credited) and ordered to pay BWC restitution in the amount of $2,690.

Tyrone Bonner of Columbus, Ohio
Bonner, doing business as Apex Alliance Group, pleaded guilty July 10 in Franklin County to failure to comply, a second-degree misdemeanor. Investigators found Bonner had lapsed coverage and misrepresented his payroll reports when he applied to have his BWC coverage reinstated. Bonner was sentenced to pay full restitution to BWC in the amount of $9,527.

Michael R. Strickland of Woodville, Ohio
Strickland pleaded guilty July 10 in Franklin County to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor, after investigators found him delivering mail for a trucking company while collecting BWC benefits. Investigators say Strickland did not report his work activity until three months after he was off disability and had returned to work. He received no sentence.

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

Cleaning company owner soils record in workers’ comp scheme

A northwest Ohio woman with lapsed workers’ compensation coverage pleaded guilty last month to felony charges of tampering with records after investigators found she obtained new coverage under her employees’ names to avoid paying her debt to the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC).

Donna Roethlisberger, owner of Complete Cleaning of Northwest Ohio, pleaded guilty to two third-degree felony counts of tampering on July 20 in the Putnam County Court of Common Pleas. Third-degree felonies carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

BWC’s special investigations department (SID) opened its investigation of Roethlisberger after receiving an allegation from the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office advising it had received a complaint from a woman who used to work for Roethlisberger. The former employee told the sheriff’s office that after filing her taxes she was notified the state was not issuing her a refund because of the debt she owed BWC for her cleaning business. The woman advised she never owned a cleaning business.

BWC’s confirmed the employee’s allegation. In addition, investigators discovered Roethlisberger opened another BWC policy under a different employee’s name after she let the first fraudulent policy lapse. Roethlisberger confessed when confronted by investigators.

Ohio law requires employers to carry workers’ compensation coverage. Oftentimes, employers must produce a certificate of coverage when entering contracts with other businesses or government entities for their service.

“It’s disappointing to see employers concoct schemes like this to avoid their responsibilities under the law,” said SID Director Jim Wernecke. “We appreciate the 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. Cutting corners or trying to cheat the system will always cost them more in the long run.”

Roethlisberger’s sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 30.

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

Woman commits fraud seeking medical benefits through workers’ comp

A Columbus woman pleaded guilty to workers’ compensation fraud this week after filing three false claims for medical benefits since 2012.

Shardette Nyarko, 36, pleaded guilty Tuesday to a first-degree misdemeanor charge of workers’ compensation fraud in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. A judge fined her $100, then suspended the fine.

Investigators with the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation discovered Nyarko’s false claims last year while conducting a routine review of disallowed injury claims. They found Nyarko filed a false claim in April 2016 and two in 2012. Nyarko stated in her claims that she was at work at the time of her injuries, but investigators determined she was not employed at the time she said she was injured.

When questioned by investigators, Nyarko explained that she needed medical treatment she could not afford.

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

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.