By Jeff Baker, Program Administrator, BWC Special Investigations Department
In a September 23, 2011 blog, “Dishonored memories: Deceased claimants with dishonest relatives,” we described how dishonest relatives may express their grief over the death of a loved one quite differently than law-abiding citizens. We noted that criminals may choose to dishonor the memory of deceased relatives by committing workers’ compensation fraud in the personal, confidential records of a deceased claimant.
These criminals falsely report to us that their deceased relatives continue to live. They pretend to be the claimants themselves, sometimes even adopting the voice of an opposite gender’s voice and/or an elderly person in an attempt to deceive us. These charlatans scheme to intercept any check addressed to a deceased claimant, forge their signature, and pretend to be the claimant (aka “uttering”) in order to cash the check to which they know they are not entitled. In situations where lost-time benefits are paid electronically, family members may inappropriately access and use monies to which they are not entitled, by concealing the claimant’s death.
Of course, such deceptive acts, born out of greed, are not limited to the relatives of our claimants. Forgery and uttering crimes are also committed by non-relatives, such as neighbors or other acquaintances. And some claimants are victimized before death, such as when the criminal uses a power of attorney to grab benefits intended for a claimant who has been deceived, often while incapacitated or otherwise dependent.
A Case In Point
Consuelo “Connie” Griffin and David Lusk (Cincinnati, Hamilton County) both pleaded guilty Jan. 14 in the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas to counts of theft after they were discovered cashing BWC benefit checks for a claimant who had died.
SID opened an investigation after receiving an allegation from BWC’s claims department, which was unable to contact a claimant receiving permanent total disability for a workplace injury. The claims department reported that claimant’s phone was disconnected.
The investigation found that while the claimant passed away in June 2014, the BWC checks that were mailed to his home continued to be cashed. Griffin and Lusk lived in the same apartment complex as the deceased and when he was hospitalized, Griffin signed a power of attorney document giving her control over his finances. Griffin also had the claimant’s mail forwarded to her address and the pair moved into his apartment when he was hospitalized. Griffin confessed to signing Harrell’s name on the checks and cashing them. Griffin also took money out of his bank account while he was ill and wrote checks from his account to herself for cash. His account was soon closed because Griffin and Lusk spent all the money and failed to pay any of his nursing home expenses.
Lusk pleaded guilty to count of theft and one count of theft from the elderly, both fifth-degree felonies. Griffin also pleaded guilty to two counts of theft, both fifth-degree felonies. The court sentenced them to 10 months in jail, suspended, and ordered them to repay restitution of $5,072.62. They also received three years of probation.
For other case examples or more information about the SID, see our Special Investigations Department Fiscal Year 2015 Annual Report.
To report suspected fraud via a fraud referral form click here or call the BWC fraud hotline at 1-800-644-6292.