A New Lebanon (Montgomery County) man and his wife both pleaded guilty to fraud following an investigation by the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) that uncovered their scheme to steal workers’ comp benefits. Mike and Terri Watkins appeared in court separately and were ordered to repay BWC a combined $108,000.
“The Watkins’ took deliberate steps that were clearly designed to maximize the dollars they could receive fraudulently from BWC for his workplace injury,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Steve Buehrer. “That’s unfortunate and not representative of the many who truly need assistance as they recover. I’m grateful to our tipster for helping our investigators uncover their scheme.”
BWC’s Special Investigations Department (SID) received an allegation that Mike Watkins may have returned to work for his business, Mike Watkins Sterling Homes, while he was collecting temporary total disability benefits and was supposed to be off work recovering from a workplace injury. The investigation found that Watkins did work for his business for two years while receiving compensation in violation of the program’s rules regarding returning to work.
The investigation also uncovered false payroll checks were being written by his wife, Terri Watkins. When Watkins was not qualified to receive the benefits, he reported to the BWC that he was employed with TRW Supreme Homes, a business owned by his wife. Terri Watkins was writing payroll checks to Mike Watkins so that he could submit them to BWC in order to qualify for living maintenance wage loss benefits. This benefit is available to an injured worker who has completed a rehabilitation plan but continues to have physical restrictions and experiences a wage loss upon return to work. SID discovered the checks were never cashed but just used as “proof” of wages so that Watkins could receive benefits to which he was not entitled.
Mike Watkins pleaded guilty to one count workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor, on Dec. 16, 2015 in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail, which was suspended for five years of community control. The restitution owed to BWC is $77,339.43 and $7,234.90 in investigative costs for a total of $84,574.33. Prior to the plea, Watkins’ attorney gave a check totaling $30,000 to the Attorney General to be paid toward the amount he owed. The conditions of community control are that he pay the remaining balance of $54,574.33, maintain employment and have no new arrests or convictions.
Terri Watkins earlier pleaded guilty to one count complicity to commit workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor, on June 15, 2015. The judge found her guilty and ordered her to repay restitution of $16,192.00 and $7,234.90 in investigative costs, for a total of $23,426.90. She provided a check to the court. As her restitution was paid in full, the judge ordered her to pay $30 in court costs and sentenced her to time served.
To report suspected workers’ compensation fraud, call 1-800-644-6292 or visit bwc.ohio.gov.