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Toledo woman convicted for taking late boyfriend’s work comp benefits

Four others convicted in recent fraud cases

A Toledo woman who cashed her late boyfriend’s work comp benefits for more than a year after his death must reimburse the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation more than $18,000 or serve 10 months in prison, a Lucas County judge ruled Oct. 5.

The judge ordered Suzette Hedrick, 58, to reimburse BWC $18,576 and serve five years of probation after she pleaded guilty to attempted grand theft, a fifth-degree felony.

“Our investigation found that Ms. Hedrick deliberately withheld from BWC that her boyfriend had died, which enabled her to illicitly use his electronic benefits card for personal gain,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s special investigations department (SID). “We understand the financial hardship some people experience following the loss of a loved one, but that doesn’t diminish the seriousness of this crime.”

An internal claims specialist discovered last year that Hedrick’s boyfriend, who was on permanent total disability, had passed away on Oct. 3, 2015, but someone was still withdrawing his monthly benefits. The agency stopped paying benefits immediately. Hedrick admitted to agents that she used the card to pay her bills, and she accepted responsibility.

In other news:

  • Elizabeth Brown, of Groveport, Ohio, pleaded guilty Oct. 12 to one misdemeanor count of workers’ compensation fraud for working while receiving BWC benefits. Investigators discovered Brown had worked in customer service for four separate companies from September 2015 to January 2016 while on temporary disability benefits. After her plea, she reimbursed BWC $3,905.
  • Timothy Snedeker, of Newark, Ohio, was found guilty Oct. 3 of three misdemeanor counts of lapsed coverage for failing to carry workers’ compensation coverage on his business, Tim’s Tree Service. A Newark Municipal Court judge sentenced Snedeker to one year in prison, which he suspended for 90 days probation. Snedeker reimbursed BWC, and his business is now in active compliance.

    Theodore Skwarski, of Cleveland, Ohio, pleaded guilty Sept. 6 to unauthorized use of property/computer system, a second-degree misdemeanor, after BWC investigators found him operating Ted’s Auto Service without proper work comp coverage. A judge sentenced Skwarski to 90 days in jail (suspended), one year of community control and 20 hours of community service to be completed within the next six months. Skwarski told BWC he was no longer operating his business, but investigators discovered otherwise. He entered a payment plan and is currently operating with active coverage.

    Michael Humble, of London, Ohio, pleaded guilty Sept. 6 to a first-degree misdemeanor count of workers’ compensation fraud after BWC found him working while receiving permanent total disability benefits. He was sentenced to one day of jail, which was suspended for the payment of $3,834 in restitution.

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

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BWC fraud investigators secure 8 convictions in August

Business owners, claimants and a healthcare provider who attempted to cheat the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) are among eight convictions secured by the agency in August.

The cases bring the year’s total convictions for BWC’s special investigations department (SID) to 100.

“Employer premiums are set aside to care for Ohio’s injured workers,” said SID Director Jim Wernecke. “We’re holding employers, medical providers and injured workers who cheat the system accountable to protect those dollars for Ohioans who need assistance until they can return to work.”

Among those convicted last month:

Richard Rocco, Rocco Prosthetics and Orthotics, of Cincinnati, Ohio
Rocco pleaded guilty Aug. 31 in the Franklin County Municipal Court to one count of falsification, a first-degree misdemeanor.  Rocco, operator of Rocco Prosthetic and Orthotics, submitted multiple C-9 forms (Physician’s Request for Medical Service) without the knowledge or authority of the physicians whose names appeared on the forms. Investigators seized from his clinic a master template and copies of blank forms with names and signatures of physicians. Rocco was sentenced to pay investigative cost restitution to BWC in the amount of $16,762.

Natoya Finley, dba Close to Home Child Development Center, of Cleveland, Ohio
Finley and Rebecca Barbee-Whitt, co-owner of the child care center, were operating the center without workers ‘compensation coverage. The pair ignored requests from BWC investigators to reinstate the policy. Finley entered into a payment plan July 24 after she was charged with four counts of failure to comply, all second-degree misdemeanors, in the Cleveland Municipal Court. She then withdrew her not guilty pleas and agreed to the Selective Intervention Program. She is required to report monthly compliance with the established payment plan. Barbee-Whitt has a warrant for her arrest for failure to appear on the charges.

Thomas N. Jung, dba Tom’s Industrial Truck Service, of Lima, Ohio
Jung pleaded guilty Aug. 4 in Lima Municipal Court to three counts of failure to comply, all second-degree misdemeanors. BWC’s Employer Fraud Team found Jung was operating his business, Tom’s Industrial Truck Service, with lapsed workers’ compensation coverage. Jung was previously investigated in 2012 for lapsed coverage and before bringing his policy into compliance. Jung’s sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 2. He will not receive jail time if he brings his policy into good standing prior to sentencing.

Mark J. Cothern of Danville, Ohio
Cothern pleaded guilty Aug. 11 in the Knox County Court of Common Pleas to a fifth-degree felony count of attempted workers’ compensation fraud.  BWC’s investigation, which involved surveillance and multiple undercover operations, found that Cothern had worked at the Scoreboard Drive-in performing various duties while receiving temporary total benefits. Cothern was sentenced to 180 days in jail, which was suspended for three years of community control, obtain and maintain full-time employment and repay restitution in the amount of $9,406.46.

Alfred Bowlson of Toledo, Ohio
Bowlson pleaded guilty Aug. 29 in the Franklin County Common Pleas Court to a fifth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud. Bowlson reported wages for employment to the State of Ohio for his work as a maintenance person in various apartment complexes in the Toledo area while receiving BWC disability. He was also receiving vocational rehabilitation and indicated he was discouraged at being unemployed and unable to provide for his family. Bowlson was sentenced to non-reporting community control for five years and ordered to pay restitution of $18,501.46 to the BWC. He will serve 11 months in prison if he violates these terms.

Elton Rista, dba ED & R Dining Services, of Avon Lake, Ohio
Rista, owner and operator of Ed & R Dining Services, pleaded guilty to a second-degree misdemeanor count of failure to comply Aug. 18. BWC investigators found Rista was operating his business without workers’ compensation coverage between June 2011 and August 2015. A Lorain County Court of Common Pleas judge sentenced Rista to 90 days in jail (suspended) and two years of non-reporting community control. He must also pay restitution of $9,478, return to compliance with workers’ compensation laws, and pay court costs.

Shardette Nyarko of Columbus, Ohio
Nyarko pleaded guilty Aug. 1 in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor. BWC received an allegation that Nyarko may have filed false BWC claims. The investigation found Nyarko filed three false claims in order to receive BWC benefits. Nyarko filed the claims stating she was injured at work, when in fact, she was not employed at the time of the alleged injuries. A judge fined her $100, then suspended the fine.

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

Ohio man who kept on truckin’ convicted of workers’ comp fraud

A Madison County truck driver who claimed he was permanently disabled from a work injury in 1999 pleaded guilty Wednesday to workers’ compensation fraud after investigators discovered him driving a truck again for another employer.

Michael Humble, 48, must pay $3,834 in restitution to the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC), according to his sentence Wednesday in a Franklin County courtroom. A judge also sentenced Humble to one day in jail, suspended, for the first-degree misdemeanor.

Acting on a tip, BWC’s special investigations department discovered Humble driving a truck in August 2015 for an exterior siding and roofing company while still collecting Permanent Total Disability (PTD) benefits.

Humble’s restitution is based on a time period that investigators proved he was working, not on total benefits received since his date of injury.

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

‘Blind’ man who drives, directs traffic, guilty of theft from workers’ comp agency

September 1, 2017 1 comment

Parking lot owner one of two Toledo cases in court this week

A Toledo-area man who claimed he was too visually impaired to work must pay the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation nearly $15,000 in restitution after investigators found him driving, parking cars and directing traffic at a parking facility he owns in downtown Toledo.

Tim Tokles, 60, of Holland, Ohio, must pay BWC $14,689 and serve five years probation after pleading guilty to a first-degree misdemeanor theft count Thursday in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.

“Mr. Tokles claimed he was permanently disabled from working due to an eye injury he suffered on the job, but our surveillance shows him working and performing multiple tasks that were inconsistent with his injury claim,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s special investigation department.

BWC’s investigation discovered Tokles operating his downtown lot outside his medical restrictions from June 19, 2012, until Aug. 31, 2013, while receiving permanent total disability benefits from BWC. When first approached by investigators, Tokles told them he couldn’t see, but they had just witnessed him driving his vehicle.

According to court records, Tokles’ disability claim includes restricted ability to read, use a computer and drive because of glare, depth perception, light sensitivity and discomfort in right eye. He also claims that several environmental conditions or elements irritate his eye, including air conditioning, cleaning materials, dust, air pollutants and wind.

In another fraud case out of Toledo this week, a maintenance man must pay BWC $18,501 in restitution and serve five years probation after investigators found him working at various apartment complexes in the Toledo area while collecting BWC benefits.

Alfred Bowlson, 44, pleaded guilty to a fifth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud on Wednesday in Franklin County. A judge warned that if Bowlson violates the terms of his probation, he will serve 11 months in prison.

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

Two Ohio restaurant owners convicted for cheating workers’ comp system

Each owes BWC more than $9,400

The owner of a central Ohio restaurant must reimburse the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) $9,406 after his former employer accused him of cheating the agency.

Mark J. Cothern, of Danville, Ohio, in Knox County, also must serve three years probation after pleading guilty Aug. 11 to one fifth-degree felony count of attempted workers’ compensation fraud in the Knox County Court of Common Pleas. Investigators found Cothern, who was injured while working for a Mount Vernon employer in 2014, was receiving BWC benefits while working at his restaurant in Danville, the Score-board Drive-in.

“We conducted multiple undercover and surveillance operations, which supported the allegation we received,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s special investigations department.

In other news, the owner of a northeast Ohio restaurant pleaded guilty Aug. 18 to a second-degree misdemeanor count of failure to comply after he refused to cooperate with BWC to reinstate his workers’ comp coverage.

Elton Rista must pay BWC for back premiums totaling $9,478 for operating his Avon Lake restaurant without workers’ compensation coverage from June 30, 2011 through Aug. 7, 2015. He was also sentenced to two years of community control.

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

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.