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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.

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.

Fraud conviction costs construction worker $16K

A Jackson County man owes the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) nearly $16,000 after pleading guilty to fraud Wednesday in a Franklin County courtroom.

Daniel McClellan, 36, pleaded guilty 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.

“Mr. McClellan was not supposed to be working and earning income while receiving these benefits, but we discovered he had been working in construction and other trades as far back as 2012,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s Special Investigations Department.

McClellan, who lives in the village of Coalton 70 miles southeast of Columbus, was also sentenced to a year 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.