Columbus, OH – Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) Administrator/CEO Steve Buehrer recently announced that seven individuals were convicted of, or pleaded guilty to, charges related to defrauding Ohio’s workers’ compensation system in March 2014. The court actions are the result of investigations conducted by BWC’s Special Investigations Department (SID). The department works to deter, detect, investigate and prosecute workers’ compensation fraud.
“Our agents conduct surveillance and perform investigations as part of our ongoing efforts to put an end to fraudulent activity,” Buehrer said. “We also actively discuss workers’ compensation fraud to shed light on the issue and make potential fraudsters think twice before they attempt to steal from the State Insurance Fund.”
The following case information represents a sampling of cases that resulted in guilty pleas or convictions during March.
Regina Whitman (Mentor, Lake County) pleaded guilty March 19 to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor, in connection with falsified wages. The Northeast Special Investigations Unit (SIU) received an allegation that she and her husband, Russell Whitman, had been arrested and charged with felony theft and were suspected of embezzling a large amount of money from the family business. Russell Whitman was receiving BWC benefits. The SIU found that Regina Whitman, the payroll manager for the family business, submitted false payroll records to BWC on behalf of her husband. While in jail in 2011 for the embezzlement charges, the couple conspired to conceal his incarceration from the BWC and to submit false documents to the BWC, so he would continue to receive benefits. Investigators reviewed telephone conversations between Russell and Regina while they were incarcerated and identified their conspiracy to commit fraud against BWC. As a result of this scheme, BWC overpaid Russell $3,287.47 in benefits. Regina Whitman was sentenced to six months of incarceration to run concurrent with her four-year sentence related to her part in the embezzlement of more than $285,000 from her family business.
Joseph Stapleton (Dayton, Montgomery County) pleaded guilty March 19 to falsification, a first-degree misdemeanor. In September 2013, Stapleton filed a claim, alleging he was assaulted by a hotel patron while working. A police report was obtained by SID indicating Stapleton was not involved in the incident with the patron and was not injured at work. Agents interviewed witnesses and confirmed that Stapleton was never involved in the altercation, and had no contact with the patron. Stapleton has been referred to the probation department and sentencing is scheduled for May 6.
David Becker (Germantown, Montgomery County) pleaded guilty March 24 to workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor, for working while receiving workplace injury benefits. SID received an allegation that Becker was operating a business from his home. Investigators found that Becker was operating an online tractor supply business from his home between October 2005 and June 2007 while collecting temporary total disability. During court, Becker paid $45,582.54 in restitution and investigative costs.
Dale Richards (Grove City, Franklin County) pleaded guilty March 12 to workers’ compensation fraud, a fifth-degree felony, for working while receiving workplace injury benefits. The Columbus SIU received an allegation that Richards was working while receiving BWC benefits. The investigation revealed that Richards was involved in construction and remodeling projects as well as selling scrap metal. Richards was ordered to pay $30,381.48 in restitution to the BWC. He was also sentenced to serve eight months at the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, which was suspended for three years of community control, as long as he doesn’t violate probation rules and pays restitution.
Christopher Steele (Reynoldsburg, Licking County) pleaded guilty March 5 to workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor. The Columbus SIU received an allegation that Steele was working while receiving BWC benefits. Steele was receiving both Living Maintenance (LM) and Working Wage Loss (WWL) benefits. Injured workers receiving LM are prohibited from working, while those receiving WWL are permitted to work, but must report earnings to determine benefit levels. The SIU obtained employment and payroll records, and confirmed that Steele worked as a carpenter and construction worker while receiving the LM compensation, and he didn’t report any earnings, resulting in a higher level of WWL benefits than he was entitled to receive. He was ordered to pay $7,680.54 in restitution by March 31, 2016. He was given 60 days in jail, which was suspended on the condition that he pay restitution in full. If he fails to do so, he will serve 60 days in the Franklin County Jail. All fines were waived and Steele was ordered to pay court costs. He made a $2,500 restitution payment after the hearing.
Source: Ohio BWC SID