‘Tis the season for parking-lot perils

By Erik Harden, BWC Public Information Officer

Let’s face it, parking lots can be harrowing under the best of circumstances. Throw in wintry weather and/or holiday shopping, and the mayhem increases exponentially.

However, there are steps you can take to make navigating them a little less scary. First, let’s talk about walking hazards.

Whether you’re at work or at the mall, remember to slow down and focus on walking (putting your phone away helps) when there is snow and ice. Check the weather forecast and plan your footwear accordingly. Snow boots are better than two or three-inch heels when an ice storm is in the forecast. Finally, walk with your feet turned outward and in small shuffling steps when pos­sible. You know, like a duck.

It’s always important to practice personal security in park­ing areas, but even more so when shopping during the holidays.

  • Park in well-lit areas and scan the parking lot for threats while leaving or arriving at your vehicle.
  • Avoid shopping alone whenever possible.
  • Beware of strangers approaching you for any reason.
  • Have your keys ready – to help you enter and exit your vehicle quickly.
  • Do not leave new purchases in plain view in your vehicle. Put bags and packages in the trunk.
  • Don’t overload yourself with bags. Doing so makes you an easy target, and can make it easier to slip and fall on ice or snow.
  • Above all – stay alert and aware of your surroundings always. Not to harp on it, but putting your phone away helps.

Limited spaces and frantic shoppers can turn parking lots into a free-for-all at this time of year.

The following tips will make your next trip to the mall safer and happier.

  • Be aware and look in all direc­tions as you travel.
  • Drive slowly and watch for cars that might be cutting diagonally across the lot.
  • Use turn signals and yield the right of way to cars travelling along aisles.
  • Look for spots where you can pull through and face out to prevent the need for backing out.

Try to park in the center of a parking space. Don’t be the person who parks over the line, diagonal or not into a space far enough. Doing so may not give other drivers enough room to park their car without harming yours.

Spending just a little extra time to park will improve your chances of avoiding an accident.

Southwest Ohio business owner gets prison time, hefty fine for work comp fraud

Business owner defrauded BWC of $425K

The owner of a former payroll services company in southwest Ohio was sentenced to six months in federal prison and fined $10,000 today for defrauding the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) out of more than $425,000.

John R. Cacaro, 59, owner of the now-defunct Employers Choice Plus LLC, also must serve one year of house arrest and three years of supervised release under a sentence handed down by U.S. District Judge Michael H. Watson in the U.S. District Court for southern Ohio.

“Multiple businesses entrusted Mr. Cacaro with processing their payroll and remitting insurance premiums to our agency and he broke that trust,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s special investigations department. “Justice was served today and I can’t thank our partners in this investigation enough, the IRS Criminal Investigation unit and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio.”

Cacaro was convicted in June on wire fraud and money laundering charges after BWC and IRS investigators discovered a scheme he concocted to short BWC on the insurance premiums he received from employers and pocket the difference.

“John Cacaro made a conscious decision to keep over $425,000 in workers’ compensation premiums so he could live a lavish lifestyle that included the purchase of a second residence in Naples, Florida, and a motor home,” said IRS Special Agent in Charge Ryan L. Korner. “Now he is a convicted felon headed to prison.”

At his sentencing today, Cacaro submitted a cashier’s check to the court for $425,247 in restitution to BWC. He noted that he has voluntarily closed Employers Choice Plus and he will likely have gainful employment through his car transportation business when he leaves prison.

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

Drug-trafficking nurse practitioner, other work comp cheats convicted in November

Eight Ohioans convicted on workers’ compensation fraud or related charges in November include a Springfield nurse practitioner who pleaded guilty to felony drug trafficking and a Cleveland-area man who collected $245,000 in disability benefits while working construction jobs since 2009.

Douglas Shrewsbury pleaded guilty Nov. 16 to several drug charges in the Clark County Court of Common Pleas after multiple authorities found him running a pain clinic without a proper license. The charges included aggravated trafficking in drugs, a first-degree felony, aggravated possession of drugs, a second-degree felony, and Medicaid fraud, a fourth-degree felony.

“Mr. Shrewsbury wrote 56 prescriptions for schedule II narcotics to injured workers in our system without an overseeing physician, which is beyond his scope and illegal,” said Jim Wernecke, director of the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation special investigations department.

Other agencies involved in the investigation included lead agency the Ohio Board of Pharmacy, the Springfield Police Department, Ohio Board of Nursing, State Medical Board of Ohio, Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, and the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office.

Shrewsbury’s sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 27.  

In the Cleveland-area case, Louis Cooper of North Royalton pleaded guilty Nov. 19 in a federal courtroom to one count of theft of government property and wire fraud. He was released on a $20,000 unsecured bond and must surrender his passport and participate in a pre-sentence investigation prior to his March 5 sentencing.

Acting on a tip, BWC investigators found Cooper working as a self-employed general contractor, installing flooring and drywall and remodeling bathrooms. Due to concealing his work activity, Cooper fraudulently secured approximately $245,000 in benefits from the Social Security Administration and BWC, of which $167,000 came from BWC.

In order of most recent court appearance, other BWC subjects convicted in November include:

Dean Richards of Lancaster
Richards pleaded guilty Nov. 29 to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor, after BWC agents found him working as a construction subcontractor while receiving permanent disability benefits from BWC. He was sentenced to 23 days in jail, credited for time served, and ordered to pay BWC $6,614 in restitution.

James T. Wilson Jr, dba Performance Companies, of New Albany
Wilson pleaded guilty Nov. 19 in a Columbus courtroom to a second-degree misdemeanor count of failure to comply after BWC investigators found him operating Performance Companies LLC/Enviro Recycling Group without workers’ compensation coverage. Sentencing will occur after BWC finishes auditing his business records.

Dwayne Dotson of Cleveland
Dotson pleaded guilty Nov. 14 to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a fifth-degree felony, after BWC found him working as a self-employed general contractor while receiving disability benefits. He was given three years of probation and ordered to pay BWC $14,453 in restitution.

Yue Liang, dba New Sheng Hung, of Cleveland
Liang pleaded guilty Nov. 13 to a first-degree misdemeanor charge of workers’ compensation fraud after he lapsed on a repayment plan related to his 2014 conviction on a similar charge. The food warehouse and market owner agreed to pay BWC $5,500 toward the balance owed to the agency and an additional $2,000 in restitution. He was sentenced to one year of community control and ordered to bring his policy into compliance.

Douglas Rheaume of New Franklin
Rheaume pleaded guilty Nov. 13 to a fifth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud after BWC found the former sheriff’s deputy operating a baseball training facility and working as an insurance agent while collecting BWC benefits. A judge sentenced Rheaume to a suspended nine-month prison term and ordered him to serve two years of probation. Additionally, he was ordered to pay $56,000 in restitution to BWC.

Stephanie Terry, dba Universal Fleet & Tire Service, of Cincinnati
Terry pleaded guilty Nov. 5 to one count of obstructing official business, a second-degree misdemeanor, after BWC found her operating her business with employees and lapsed BWC coverage. Two of her employees had filed injury claims while the coverage was lapsed. Terry paid $27,947 to BWC for the balance she owed the agency.

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

Older Ohioans: Know your abilities and options to stay on the road safely

Posted on the BWC Blog with permission from our friends at the Ohio Department of Aging and Ohio Department of Transportation.

Because being able to get around in the community is critical for older Ohioans to remain independent and healthy, the Ohio Department of Aging and the Ohio Department of Transportation are partnering to increase awareness of available resources for older drivers during Older Driver Safety Awareness Week, Dec. 3-7, 2018.

Drivers age 65 and older represent the fastest-growing segment of licensed drivers in Ohio and across the nation. While older drivers are among the safest drivers on our roads, they may be more likely to be seriously injured in a crash. Ohio has seen four consecutive years of rising traffic deaths involving drivers age 65 and older.

To maintain their mobility, older Ohioans should become aware of their changing abilities, understand the factors that can increase the risk of a crash and learn about resources in their communities to maintain their driving ability or find alternatives to driving.

Normal aging may increase common risk factors for roadway accidents, including changes in vision, hearing, strength, visibility, reflexes and memory. Medical conditions and certain medications also may impact the ability to drive safely. Older drivers also may drive older vehicles that no longer fit their needs (e.g., too big or too small, or seats, steering wheel and mirrors do not adjust sufficiently). Finally, a fear of driving and traffic can increase the risk of a crash.

Tips for older driver safety:

  • Stay aware of your changing physical, vision and hearing abilities and adjust your driving habits accordingly. Exercise regularly to increase and maintain your strength and flexibility.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist if any medical conditions you have or medications you take could make it unsafe to drive.
  • Try to do most of your driving during daylight and in good weather. Avoid busy roadways and rush hours whenever possible.
  • Plan your route before you drive and choose routes with well-lit streets, intersections with left turn signals and easy parking.
  • Avoid distractions while driving, including talking or texting on a cell phone, eating, or listening to a loud radio. In-car conversations can also be distracting.
  • Leave plenty of room between you and the vehicle in front of you so that you can react if the other driver stops or slows suddenly.
  • Do not drive too slowly, as this can be as unsafe as speeding.

The Ohio Department of Aging offers a webpage (www.aging.ohio.gov/transportation) of transportation and driving tips and resources for older adults. The page includes a link to “Stay Fit to Drive,” a publication of the Ohio Department of Transportation that includes statistics about older driver crashes and tips to reduce key risk factors.

Toy safety – make a list and check it twice

By Erik Harden, BWC Public Information Officer

Ralphie’s dream of getting a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas in the holiday classic “A Christmas Story” has become the stuff of legend. The constant refrain of “you’ll shoot your eye out” torments the young protagonist and gives viewers a good laugh.

But toy safety is a serious matter, especially at this time of year. According to the non-profit toy safety group World Against Toys Causing Harm, Inc. (W.A.T.C.H.), a child is treated in U.S. emergency rooms every three minutes for a toy-related injury.

Statistics from the Consumer Product Safety Commission show there were an estimated 240,000 toy-related injuries in the U.S. in 2016, and a reported 35 children died from toy-related incidents from 2014 to 2016. So, what can we do to keep children safe?

For starters, W.A.T.C.H. releases its Top 10 Worst Toys List before the holiday shopping season to help consumers avoid some of the most dangerous toys on the market. Prevent Blindness America also declares each December Safe Toys and Gifts Month. Although its primary focus is protecting children’s eyesight, Prevent Blindness America has a Safe Toy Checklist that generally applies to toy selection. Prevent Blindness America suggests doing the following before purchasing a toy.

  • Read all warnings and instructions on the box.
  • Ask yourself if the toy is right for your child’s ability and age.
  • Avoid purchasing toys with sharp or rigid points, spikes, rods or dangerous edges.
  • Check the lenses and frames of children’s sunglasses; many can break and cause injuries.
  • Buy toys that will withstand impact and not break into dangerous shards.
  • Look for the letters “ASTM.” This designation means the product meets the national safety standards set by ASTM International.
  • Avoid toys that shoot or include parts that fly off. Remember that BB guns are NOT toys (sorry Ralphie).

W.A.T.C.H. says with online sales expected to surge 17 to 22 percent this 2018 holiday season, parents face the disadvantage of not being able to touch and physically inspect a toy and its packaging for warning signs of obvious hazards at the time of purchase. Also, consumer-to-consumer (i.e. “second-hand”) online sales provide additional opportunities for the purchase of recalled toys and toys with proven defects.

Since there currently is no full-proof safety net in place to prevent dangerous toys from reaching consumers, W.A.T.C.H.  urges parents to think defensively when it comes to toy safety this holiday season. Parents can avoid many toy-related hazards by:

  • Remaining cautious.
  • Identifying safety red flags.
  • Knowing what classic safety traps to look out for.
  • Inspecting new and old toys for defects and poor design.
  • Learning to identify hidden hazards.

W.A.T.C.H. also cautions toy shoppers not to be lulled into a false sense of security that a toy is safe because it has a familiar brand name on the package or it’s available from a well-known retailer.

Using these tips will help keep the kiddos safe and happy this holiday season. Not giving them a “deranged Easter Bunny” suit is also a good plan.

Two Ohio business owners convicted for failing to carry workers’ comp coverage

Second conviction for both employers

A Columbus-area business owner with a criminal history against the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation pleaded guilty Monday to failing to carry workers’ compensation coverage on his asphalt paving business.

James T. Wilson Jr., 52, of New Albany, pleaded guilty in a Columbus courtroom to a second-degree misdemeanor count of failure to comply after BWC investigators found him operating Performance Companies LLC/Enviro Recycling Group without workers’ compensation coverage. The plea came nine years after Wilson’s first case with BWC, when he pleaded guilty to a fourth-degree felony theft charge and was ordered to pay BWC more than $180,000 in restitution.

“We attempted to work with Mr. Wilson to bring his business into compliance with Ohio law, but ultimately we had to go with this course of action,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s special investigations department. “I can’t say this enough to employers in our system: If you’re struggling with your BWC premiums, reach out to our agency and work with us. Don’t risk a criminal conviction.”

Wilson’s sentencing will be scheduled for a later date after BWC has finished auditing his business records.

In other news, the owner of a food warehouse and market in Cleveland pleaded guilty Nov. 13 to a first-degree misdemeanor charge of workers’ compensation fraud after he lapsed on a repayment plan related to his 2014 conviction on a similar charge.

Yue Liang, owner of New Sheng Hung, agreed to pay BWC $5,500 toward the balance owed to the agency and an additional $2,000 in restitution. He was sentenced to one year of community control and ordered to bring his policy into compliance.

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

Get to your Thanksgiving feast safe and sound

Buckle Up – Every Trip. Every Time.

By Erik Harden, BWC Public Information Officer

For many of us Thanksgiving includes piling into a car and travelling to visit family and friends. In fact, Thanksgiving weekend is the year’s busiest travel weekend.

Whether you’re driving across the street or across the country to reach your Thanksgiving feast, you should always wear your seat belt.

With increased traffic brings the increased possibility of traffic crashes. That’s why we’re partnering with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to share this important lifesaving reminder: Buckle Up – Every Trip. Every Time.

During the 2016 Thanksgiving weekend*, 341 people died in motor vehicle crashes nationwide. Tragically, 49 percent of those killed had not buckled up. Nighttime proved even more deadly, with 55 percent of Thanksgiving weekend crashes occurring at night.

Much like drunk driving, these deaths represent needless tragedies for families across America. The simple click of a seat belt could have prevented these fatalities. Research shows that wearing a seat belt is one of the simplest things you can do to stay safe when you’re traveling in a vehicle, especially during busy travel periods like Thanksgiving.

The NHTSA estimates that proper seat belt use reduces the risk of fatal injury to front seat passengers by 45 percent, and the risk of moderate to serious injury by 50 percent. In 2016, approximately 14,668 people survived crashes because they were buckled up. If everyone had worn their seat belts that year, an additional 2,456 lives could have been saved. NHTSA’s research also shows:

  • Males are more likely to be unbuckled than females in fatal crashes. In 2016, 52 percent of males who died in crashes were not buckled up at the time of the crash, compared to 40 percent of females.
  • Younger drivers are also at greater risk of being unbuckled. In fact, the 13- to 15-year-old and 18- to 34-year-old age groups had the highest percentages (62 percent and 59 percent, respectively) of occupants killed who were not wearing their seat belts at the time of the crash.

Seat belt use should be a no-brainer. We know that regular seat belt use vastly reduces fatalities. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, let’s be grateful for the most basic vehicle technology that has – without a doubt –  saved the most lives.

We all want to see our friends and family arrive safe and sound to the Thanksgiving table. So, remember to Buckle Up – Every Trip. Every Time.

For additional tips to make your holiday road trip safer, visit our BeSafeOhio site.

*6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 23, to 5:59 a.m. Monday, Nov. 28