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Let’s talk workers’ comp fraud

November 13, 2018 2 comments

By Melissa Vince, BWC Public Relations Manager

Fraud (/frôd/), noun
Definition: Wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain.

In other words, cheating to get one over on others. There are countless ways people try to commit fraud. Check fraud, identify theft, pyramid schemes, credit card fraud and so on.

What do we do in the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Special Investigations Department? We pursue workers’ compensation fraud.

BWC insures Ohio employers for workplace injuries and cares for employees who are hurt on the job. The vast majority of Ohio workers, employers, medical providers and others are interested in nothing other than getting injured workers healed and back on the job. There are a few though who have other ideas.

We define workers’ compensation fraud as knowingly making a false representation of a material fact to obtain or to deny workers’ compensation benefits or to avoid responsibility under the law. Workers’ compensation fraud increases premiums for employers, which reduces the money employers can invest in their employees, community and future growth.

There are a number of ways fraudsters can seek to manipulate the system, for example:

  • When an employer misrepresents the amount of payroll or classification of its employees.
  • When a medical provider intentionally receives payments to which he or she is not entitled.
  • When a worker fakes an injury, or returns to work while receiving benefits.

And there are many more detailed on our website, bwc.ohio.gov.

What’s our goal? #StopFraud in Ohio’s workers’ compensation system. You’ll see in this infographic highlighting a few stats from the last year that we work hard every day to achieve that goal.

Anyone committing fraud, or thinking of trying to get one over on us should remember this word:

ex·pose (/ikˈspōz/), verb
Definition: make (something) visible, typically by uncovering it.

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Special investigations department finishes FY2018 with impressive results

By Jim Wernecke, Director, BWC Special Investigations Department

It’s getting harder and harder for the criminally minded to rip off BWC and the State Insurance Fund and get away with it.

That was the message I took to BWC’s board of directors Thursday afternoon when I presented the board with the Special Investigations Department’s annual report for FY2018, which closed June 30. The report details another impressive year of our department’s efforts to deter, detect, investigate and prosecute workers’ compensation fraud.

Here are some highlights in what was our 25th year as a department:

  • We closed 1,622 fraud cases, 448 more than in 2017.
  • We secured 101 convictions of claimants, employers and health care providers who defrauded our agency.
  • For every dollar we spent on our efforts, we saved the state fund nearly five ($4.81), or $1.33 more than last year.
  • We reduced our investigation time per case by 23 days on average, our lowest number on this measure since 2005.
  • All told, we saved the state fund $60.1 million in 2018, a 44 percent jump over 2017’s numbers.

We couldn’t have achieved this success without the 121 dedicated staff members who serve our department with great skill, resourcefulness and determination to bring justice to those who cheat our system. We also owe a great deal of credit to advances in technology and a key operational change we made last year to increase our efficiency and productivity.

Drones and Workplace Safety
The drone program we implemented in 2017 for our safety investigators proved itself a worthy investment in 2018. Our safety investigators relied on the tool at 10 workplace safety violation sites last year, including two that would have been especially difficult and dangerous, if not impossible, to properly investigate without it. The most challenging case involved flying the drone into an elevator shaft. Another involved an old factory site where the factory was being torn down. Thanks to our drones, our safety investigators could remain at a safe distance while navigating the drones to survey the sites and take accident scene pictures.

We have three drone pilots certified with the Federal Aviation Administration and three more waiting in the wings, so to speak. And while they find the drones fun and exciting, their enthusiasm is tempered in knowing that each operation is tied to tragedy and unfortunate events. Their drive is to ensure they gather accurate data and conduct unbiased investigations.

Hotline
In November we rolled out a new method for collecting fraud allegations. Until then, outside callers would report allegations to BWC personnel that staffed our customer contact centers. Now the callers reach our investigators directly, which allows our team to ask follow-up questions and obtain more precise information to jumpstart the investigation. It also reduced or eliminated the wait times for callers, which led to fewer dropped calls. The bottom line is the new hotline system led to a more comprehensive and detailed fraud allegation packet that we could send to our field teams.

Looking ahead
As we commence our 26th year in FY 2019, we remain united in our commitment to protecting the state insurance fund and the Ohio workers and employers it serves. We join our colleagues throughout this agency in delivering the people of this state the world-class workers’ compensation system they deserve.

1,000 Fraud Hotline calls in 6 months!

By Jeff Baker, Program Administrator, BWC Special Investigations Department

We have received 1,000 calls since we launched our new Fraud Hotline system six months ago during International Fraud Awareness Week 2017. That’s 167 calls a month, a little more than seven a day, or one nearly every working hour!

In our November 14, 2017 blog, we noted that calling the BWC Fraud Hotline is the most interactive and direct way for you to report an allegation of fraud. Our hotline puts you in direct contact with an agent in our Special Investigations Department, one ready and willing to listen to your concerns. (Under our old system, you reached a representative in BWC’s Customer Contact Center.)

Our hotline agents have years of investigative knowledge, skills and experience securing the essential information from sources. Whether the fraud hotline agent is Connor, Jake, Jeff, Karen, Karie or Loryn, or any of our 25 fraud analysts assigned to our special investigations unit statewide, callers know within seconds that they have reached a committed, respectful professional.

You, the general public, are essential in helping us fight fraud, waste, and abuse in workers’ comp. We are celebrating our 25th year since the creation of our Special Investigations Department in 1993 and thousands of our closed, founded cases started with a call to our Fraud Hotline.

Just last month, for example, the convictions of Rodney Alberino, James Harris and Donna Steele were each the result of just such a call.

If you’re concerned about the alleged fraudster discovering your identity, rest assured. Your identity may remain either anonymous or confidential, depending on your preference. In addition, you don’t need to prove any facts or even have 100 percent confidence in your suspicion. You need only to suspect that fraud may have occurred or continues to occur. We’ll take care of the rest.

We look forward to hearing from you, so give us a call at 1-800-644-6292 if you suspect fraud. We will conduct the investigation and determine the facts. Together, we are successfully combatting workers’ compensation fraud in Ohio – one call at a time.

Thank you for your support!

Cleveland fraudster owes BWC nearly $200,000

Former trucker worked variety of jobs while collecting disability benefits

 

A Cleveland-area man owes the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) nearly $200,000 after the agency found him working for nearly seven years while collecting disability benefits.

Rodney W. Alberino, 44, of Parma Heights, pleaded guilty to a fourth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud April 26 in the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. He must pay BWC $193,574 in restitution and serve two years of probation.

“We got a tip that Mr. Alberino had been operating a lawn care business and working with his neighbor rehabbing houses while collecting disability benefits,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s special investigations department. “Our investigators talked to witnesses, gathered records and shot surveillance video. They found Mr. Alberino performing a number of work activities, including snow removal, landscaping, property maintenance, painting, and siding installation.”

Alberino was working as a truck driver when he was injured on the job in January 2010. He collected BWC benefits until Dec. 28, 2016.

In other fraud news:

A southwest Ohio physician who pleaded guilty April 27 to four counts of aggravated trafficking in drugs also collected $12,068 from BWC for services he did not perform.

In addition to the drug charges, Dr. Timothy Manuel, 59, pleaded guilty in Highland County Common Pleas Court to a fourth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud. Sentencing is scheduled for May 24.

Manuel, who now lives in Missouri, was indicted last year after an investigation by BWC and the Ohio Board of Pharmacy found that he prescribed large amounts of medically-unnecessary oxycodone to numerous patients while working as a doctor at Hillsboro Urgent Care.

Randall Abel, 33, of North Canton, pleaded guilty to a first-degree misdemeanor theft charge April 25 after BWC found him working as a self-employed automotive repairman while collecting disability benefits.

Acting on a tip, investigators found Abel owning and operating RJ’s Performance Diesel while receiving disability benefits from his former employer, a local construction company.

Abel paid $6,475 in restitution to his former employer and was sentenced in the Stark County Common Pleas Court to two years of probation.

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

Cleveland man finds work doesn’t pay

Work comp fraudster owes BWC $10k+ after conviction

A Cleveland man who worked for nearly a year while collecting injured-worker benefits must pay $10,498 in restitution to the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) after pleading guilty to workers’ compensation fraud Wednesday.

James Harris, 44, also must serve three years of probation for the fifth-degree felony, according to his sentence in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.

“We got an anonymous tip that Mr. Harris was working as a laborer for a property management company, so we checked it out,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s special investigations department. “After reviewing employment records and interviewing property owners, we determined Mr. Harris was engaged in regular, ongoing work and getting paid for it. You can’t do that and claim you’re disabled from work.”

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

Spotlight: Our college interns

By Jeff Baker, Program Administrator, BWC Special Investigations Department

In recognition of International Fraud Awareness Week 2017, we are highlighting careers in criminal investigations, especially those that commence with the study of criminology, criminal justice, law enforcement, digital forensics or data analytics.

History:  BWC’s Special Investigations Department (SID) created its college relations program in 1995 to promote the study and practice of criminology, criminal justice, law enforcement and public administration. On college and university campuses throughout Ohio (and beyond), SID staff members exchange insights with students, faculty and staff members on how to combat crime.

Since the program began 20 years ago, SID has recruited, selected and trained more than 300 paid interns and unpaid externs. Many have gone on to become law enforcement officers, criminal investigators, special agents, digital forensic analysts, assistant special agents in charge and special agents in charge. We currently employ in full time positions, thirteen graduates from our SID college internship program.

On Campus: BWC representatives travel to colleges and universities to meet with candidates. For example, on Nov. 14, BWC was represented at Bowling Green State University by SID Special Agent in Charge Craig Matthews and BWC Human Capital Management Analyst Megan Lentz.

They participated in a job fair specifically targeted toward criminal justice majors. Matthews described the internship program in the special investigations department at the Toledo service office and Lentz explained the application process.

Panel Discussion:  For two hours on Nov. 15, two investigative professionals, Taylor Scarberry and Paul Balzer, participated in our agency’s second panel event where five current permanent employees who started out at BWC as interns discussed their experiences with our current interns. Moderated by Megan Lentz, these successful professionals painted a picture of what it is like to permanently come on board with our agency.

The former SID interns described their success and career paths working in specialized units, including the intelligence and special investigations units (SIUs), as well the health care provider team and regional claimant SIU.

Megan Lentz, Kayla Michel, Luke Bogner, Nathan LaChappelle, Taylor Scarberry and Paul Balzer

They described their many important responsibilities as a college intern with SID. They also mentioned what they did not do, such as getting coffee or food for their co-workers, running any errand, or any other trivial activity.

Panelist Taylor Scarberry: Taylor started his career with BWC in November 2012 as an exemplary college intern with the Columbus SIU. On August 22, 2016, he commenced his permanent employment with BWC as a Criminal Investigator with the Southeast Regional Claimant SIU, assigned to the Cambridge service office. He reports to special agent in charge Scott Lape, a former SID college intern.

During today’s panel discussion, Taylor offered the following knowledge, understanding and wisdom:

“Following my experience as a college intern with the Special Investigations Department and obtaining my Bachelor’s degree in Criminology from The Ohio State University, it was important to me to find a career in criminal justice.  I discovered quickly during my internship that criminal justice was something I was passionate about and saw myself establishing a career in.  BWC provided me that opportunity and the team atmosphere within the SID is something I enjoy being a part of every day.”

Panelist Paul Balzer: Paul started his career with BWC in 2010 while a student at The Ohio State University. Following his internship, he joined BWC full-time as a criminal investigator with health care provider team (HCPT) in December 2011. On October 7, 2012, Paul was promoted to special agent with the HCPT. On Nov. 28, 2016, he was promoted to fraud analyst with the intelligence unit, a team supervised by a former SID college intern, special agent in charge Eric Brown.

As an experienced panelist who has already earned multiple promotions, Paul offered the following recollections and insights:

“I had no idea what this agency did or that it even existed. But the synopsis I read about the internship combined all three things I had wanted to do – work in health care, computer science and criminology. In my current position, I want to continue to make an impact. There are a lot of challenges in the criminal justice system, but we can still make an impact and improve the lives of others. I hope we continue to use critical resources in the most efficient manner possible to stop fraud, because fraud just drives up costs for the entire system.”

Reasons for Ongoing Success: The SID college relations program has been successful in hiring interns with a variety of backgrounds, majors and career goals who quickly become vital assets to BWC’s efforts to fight workers’ compensation fraud. We solicit and heed feedback from our interns to continually improve our program.

The Future: If you know of any students that would be a great fit in our program, please encourage them to submit an application via our Future Opportunities posting. We have an intern position that we are looking to fill right now and we are using the Future Opportunities posting to select our applications. Additionally, we have the specific intern positions posted:

Construction worker’s fraud scheme collapses

A Marion man who claimed to be permanently disabled owes the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) $160,000 after pleading guilty Wednesday to a fourth-degree felony charge of workers’ compensation fraud.

Appearing in a Franklin County courtroom, Jimmie Rankin, 45, 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.

“We found Mr. Rankin working as a subcontractor and getting paid with cash and checks made out to other people so he could avoid a paper trail and stay beneath our radar,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s Special Investigations Department. “But thanks in part to tips from honest citizens, we were able to stop this fraud and bring Mr. Rankin to justice.”

Working with Rankin’s employers, investigators determined Rankin had been employed at least since March 2011, a little more than three years after his workplace injury and while he was collecting temporary disability benefits. He later secured permanent total disability benefits from BWC and, while working, collected those benefits from June 2012 to May 2016.

A judged warned Rankin that if he violates the terms of his community control, he would serve 18 months in prison.

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