Tumwater, WA – A Spanaway woman has been charged with stealing more than $56,000 in injured worker benefits while operating a barbecue eatery.
Susan Kathleen Ruiz claimed she was too disabled from an on-the-job injury to work, yet managed Roadside BBQ in the Parkland-Spanaway area of Pierce County for more than a year and a half, according to court documents filed by the Washington Attorney General.
Now Ruiz, 51, faces a felony charge of first-degree theft. She’s scheduled to be arraigned today, Feb. 17, in Thurston County Superior Court. The charge alleges the crime was aggravated because it occurred over a long time with multiple incidents.
The charge stems from a Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) undercover investigation that found Ruiz fraudulently obtained more than $56,000 in wage-replacement payments from the state.
Ruiz began receiving workers’ compensation benefits in September 2007, when she fell off an extension ladder while working as a painter. L&I approved the payments based on certified statements from Ruiz and her physician that she couldn’t work because of back, neck and other injuries caused by the workplace accident.
Long paper trail
However, an 18-month L&I investigation unearthed a paper trail of bank and lease records, health department inspections, an insurance policy and other documents showing Ruiz owned and carried out day-to-day operations of Roadside BBQ from at least May 2012 to November 2013.
In addition, undercover investigators witnessed Ruiz directing employees and overseeing business at the restaurant numerous times in 2013, court papers said.
Man buys restaurant directly from Ruiz
Two of Ruiz’s employees told L&I that a man listed as the restaurant owner on a business license was actually her accountant, but that Ruiz tried to make it look like he was the owner. When Ruiz sold the establishment in late 2013, the buyer told L&I that he purchased it directly from Ruiz.
L&I launched the investigation based on a worker tip. “If you suspect fraud, let us know,” said Elizabeth Smith, assistant director of L&I Fraud Prevention & Labor Standards division. “The workers’ comp system is here to help workers who are truly injured. When people steal these benefits it hurts all of us.”
Source: WA L&I