Seattle, WA – A food-service employee who claimed she was too injured to work has been ordered to pay back more than $11,000 in disability payments after she was caught working at a nursing home and hotel.
Monica De Lopez admitted the fraud and pleaded guilty in Seattle to third-degree theft, a gross misdemeanor.
King County Superior Court Judge Pro Tem Kenneth Comstock accepted the plea, but deferred finding her guilty for two years if she meets certain conditions. She must repay $11,683 for cash benefits she wrongfully obtained from the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I), submit no false L&I claims, break no criminal laws and serve probation.
If she pays the entire amount and stays out of trouble, the case will be dismissed. If she doesn’t meet the conditions, she must return to court for sentencing, where she would be found guilty and could be sentenced to up to 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.
The Washington Attorney General prosecuted the case based on an L&I investigation.
L&I administers the state workers’ compensation insurance system to help injured workers heal and return to work.
Records check triggers investigation
De Lopez originally injured her back changing a bed in July 2015 while working as a housekeeper at a Seattle hotel.
Based on her physician’s assessment and De Lopez officially declaring she was not working and could not work due to her injury, she began receiving cash benefits from L&I to replace part of her wages.
The department began investigating De Lopez in 2017 after a routine cross-check of L&I and state Employment Security Department records showed she was earning wages while receiving the L&I wage-replacement payments.
Breakfast attendant, dishwasher jobs
L&I’s investigation determined that De Lopez worked as a breakfast attendant at a Seattle hotel for a month in early 2016. That spring, she started a job as a dishwasher and dietary aide for a skilled nursing facility in Seattle for five months.
During the same period, she turned down employment help from her vocational counselor and repeatedly told medical staff she was unable to work, court documents state.
All told, De Lopez earned more than $8,181 from the hotel and nursing facility jobs at the same time she was receiving the wage-replacement payments.
Source WA L&I