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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.

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.