Northeast Ohio business owner convicted of workers comp fraud

Brunswick man owes BWC $22,000, tried to deceive agency

The owner of a tree service company in Medina County who cancelled his policy with the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation in 2004 pleaded guilty to workers’ compensation fraud last week after investigators found he was still operating his business and owed the agency $22,000 in back premiums.

Robert D. Matusiak, owner of Rob’s Tree Service in Brunswick, Ohio, pleaded guilty Sept. 19 in Medina County Court of Common Pleas to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a fourth-degree felony. The plea culminated an investigation that started in 2012 after BWC discovered Matusiak trying to circumvent the law and avoid his debt by applying for a new policy but with deceptive information.

“Ohio’s workers’ compensation system is designed to ensure injured workers get the care and benefits they need while also protecting employers from claims’ costs that could potentially cripple their business,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Sarah Morrison. “When employers try to skirt the law and avoid this responsibility, they put their employees and themselves at risk and place an unfair burden on the entire system.”

Matusiak opened and closed his original BWC policy in 2004, saying he no longer operated his business. BWC started receiving injury claims from his employees in the years that followed, however. Matusiak ignored BWC’s attempts to work with him to bring his policy into compliance. He then applied for new coverage but under a different address and under his wife’s name. Matusiak stated on the application that there were no other policies associated with the current operation, and he left several questions blank that are used to determine if a duplicate policy exists. The case was forwarded to BWC’s Special Investigations Department.

Through audits, interviews and other techniques, investigators determined Rob’s Tree Service had been in continuous operation from at least April 23, 2013 to Sept.30, 2015. After being confronted by agents, Matusiak again applied for BWC coverage but with deceptive information.

With some exceptions, Ohio law requires employers with at least one employee to carry workers’ compensation coverage. Many businesses won’t hire contractors, such as painters or tree-trimming companies, unless the contractors prove they have workers’ compensation coverage.

Matusiak’s sentencing is set for Nov. 3.

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

 

Teachable moment: Cleveland woman falsifies student status, must repay BWC $54,000

kori-white-booking-photoA Cleveland woman pleaded guilty Monday, Sept. 19, to workers’ compensation fraud after investigators found she deceived the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) about her student status to collect nearly $54,000 in dependent death benefits over four years.

Kori White, 26, pleaded guilty to a first-degree misdemeanor count of workers’ compensation fraud in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. Prior to her plea, White paid $10,000 toward her restitution to BWC, leaving her with a balance owed of $43,782.

“The sad part about this case is that money was supposed to support this young woman’s educational endeavors,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Sarah Morrison. “Now it’s a debt that represents poor choices and a missed opportunity.”

A judge sentenced White to community control for five years, under the conditions she obtain a job or undergo job training and make regular payments toward her BWC balance. She will have to serve 120 days in jail if she violates the terms of her community control.

BWC’s Special Investigation Department began investigating White after reviewing a group of dependent death benefit recipients. Investigators found she was submitting college enrollment forms to BWC to show she was enrolled in full-time classes at the University of Akron, Cuyahoga Community College or Lakeland Community College from January 2009 to December 2013. However, White did not attend classes or dropped them after the paperwork was submitted, both actions that made her ineligible for continued benefits.

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

BWC SID: Annual in-service training – Part 2 of 3

By Jeff Baker, Program Administrator, BWC Special Investigations Department

In our constant quest for improvement, all members of the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Special Investigations Department (SID) gathered on September 14, 2016 at our Mansfield service office to successfully complete annual in-service training.

Led by SID Director Jim Wernecke, we shared investigative successes, learned how to use new technology we recently secured, and committed to operational strategies for even greater effectiveness.

sid-trg-picWe’ve found that one of the chief ways to find new or alternate methods of fraud detection and investigation is to consult counterpart agencies. Such collaboration allows SID to examine its own methods to see where improvements can be made, how tasks can be accomplished more efficiently, and what new strategies or technologies can be used in the course of an investigation.

sidpic2This is why Director Wernecke invited Ron Davitt, a talented Training Officer with the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy (OPOTA), to be a keynote speaker. In two hours he enhanced our awareness and skills in conducting “De-Escalation and Mental Health” to increase our effectiveness in planning and conducting criminal investigations.

Director Wernecke presented Training Officer Davitt with a certificate of appreciation, noting that it is an honor for us to recognize, praise and thank him. We respect and appreciate all of our law enforcement colleagues for their dedication to serving and protecting the citizens of the state of Ohio.

You can read the first article about the September 14 event here and our most recent annual report here.

Darke County Safety Council sheds light on workplace safety

Get an insider’s view of an Ohio safety council
By Michelle Francisco, BWC Safety Council Program Manager

As many in the safety and health industry in Ohio know, BWC sponsors 82 safety councils across the state to provide a forum for accident prevention, workers’ compensation, and health and wellness information in local communities.

There are many unique characteristics to each safety council – and no two are alike.

dc-safety-council-logo-final-colorI’d like to tell you a little more about the Darke County Safety Council (DCSC), sponsored by the Darke County Chamber of Commerce in Greenville, Ohio.

Interestingly, but not surprising given the county’s location on the central western border with Indiana, it is the second-largest agricultural county in Ohio. Naturally, this leads this group to focus its attention on agri-business as well as traditional employer safety training needs.

The DCSC has a diverse membership of 67 businesses that include international manufacturing, agri-business, health care, trucking, financial institutions, school districts, public employers, insurance companies, consulting companies, construction, landscaping, EMS, and employment agencies. Such a variety of member companies participating can sometimes make program selection challenging.

The council holds meetings at noon on the fourth Thursday of each month in the Brick Room at the Brethren Retirement Community. The most popular and well-attended meeting last year was “Employee Use of Marijuana” presented by Attorney Amy C. Mitchell.  The meeting was held last October, preceding the November vote on Ballot Issue 3-Legalization of Marijuana in Ohio.

The DCSC credits its success to its committee chair running a timely meeting and the entire committee’s assistance in meeting-day responsibilities. Members of the steering committee intentionally do not sit together at meetings. They sit with different members to gain insight on their safety issues and offer resources or referrals to BWC.  The DCSC always invites the media and the safety council is frequently front-page news!

Safety council leadership and members also value the support of their BWC safety representative who provides a BWC ‘update’ at each meeting and maintains a running knowledge of hot topics which may be appropriate for future meetings. Because BWC is a large state agency, the DCSC also appreciates the direct connection to an employee to assist with ‘navigating’ the system.

At meetings, employers learn about ongoing discount programs like BWC’s Safety Intervention Grant. Employers have publicly acknowledged their appreciation for receiving the Safety Grant information through the safety council as reflected in the comments of David Dunaway, owner of Ramco Electric Motors, who said “Through membership in the Darke County Safety Council we became aware of a Safety Intervention Grant through the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.  Ramco received a $15,300 grant as a direct result of this opportunity. We value our membership in the Darke County Safety Council!”

Participation in the DCSC creates opportunities for area employers to learn techniques for increasing safety in their workplace, better manage their workers’ compensation program, network with other area employers, and inform them how to access useful, money-saving workers’ compensation and risk-management information.

According to Sharon Deschambeau, President of the DCSC, the safety council program equips her organization with the ability to provide resources to chamber and community businesses that might not otherwise be available. The Chamber is consistently focused on engaging current safety council members and growing their safety council.

For more information about the Darke County Safety Council, visit their website.

BWC Librarians at the 2016 World Library and Information Congress

By Sharon Roney, BWC Library Administrator

In August the BWC librarians spent a week volunteering at the International Federation of Library Associations’ (IFLA) World Library and Information Congress at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. The event was attended by over 4,000 librarians from all over the world. It was an honor to have the Congress in Columbus.

librarians-2016-world-congress

It has not been in the U.S. since 2001 and Columbus won the event with the strong support of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, Experience Columbus and Online Computer Library Center, Inc (OCLC). The Congress was held in South Africa last year and will be in Poland next year; so for many it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to interact with librarians from around the world.

We were part of a large group of volunteers from a variety of libraries and library organizations in Ohio. The volunteers worked to direct attendees through the convention center, assist them with translation services for sessions, and help with social media like Twitter.

The theme of the Congress was, “Collections. Collaboration. Community.” We were able to attend some of the sessions, which brought this theme to the forefront including sessions on digital privacy, net neutrality, and library material preservation.

The BWC Librarians Drew Hart, Amie Klein and Sharon Roney with the BWC banner.

The BWC Library was honored to be a part of the Hall of Libraries. Libraries throughout Ohio were invited to submit proposals for banners to be placed in the main hall of the convention center. Our library banner was selected and displayed along with banners from 30 other libraries. It could be viewed by all of the attendees as they passed from one session to another during the conference.

BWC Librarian Amie Klein and Library Administrator Sharon Roney also accompanied a group of 35 librarians on a field trip to Lexington, Kentucky libraries at the end of the Congress. The tour was one of many available to local and regional libraries.

A horse sculpture in the beautiful Keeneland Library.

The attendee librarians were from around the world some having never left their homes before. We toured the Keeneland Library’s extensive archives of horse racing and breeding materials, the Lexington Public Library’s main branch and the William T. Young Library on the University of Kentucky campus, which has an extensive Russian language collection that was of great interest to the Russian librarians on the tour.

Volunteering was an amazing experience for us. It allowed us to interact with individuals we would never typically meet and hear their experiences from libraries wholly unlike our own.

 

State agencies share data to nab workers’ comp cheat

hopsonA Columbus man who worked two jobs while collecting injured workers’ benefits must pay the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation $6,000 in restitution and investigative costs and serve five years probation, a judge ruled Tuesday in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.

Dion S. Hopson, 43, pleaded guilty Sept. 20 to workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor. He was sentenced to 180 days in jail, which was suspended in exchange for five years community control. Hopson also was ordered to pay $5,000 in restitution to BWC and $1,000 in investigative costs. He must pay $100 per month to stay in good standing with community control, which will terminate once restitution has been paid.

BWC’s Special Investigations Department started looking at Hopson after a cross-match query with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services revealed two employers were paying Hopson wages in 2014 and 2015. SID found Hopson was simultaneously receiving Temporary Total Disability benefits from BWC.

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

BWC SID: Annual in-service training – Part 1 of 3

By Jeff Baker, Program Administrator, BWC Special Investigations Department

admin-morrison-sid-mtgIn our constant quest for improvement, all members of the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Special Investigations Department (SID) gathered on September 14, 2016 at our Mansfield service office to successfully complete annual in-service training.

BWC Administrator/CEO Sarah Morrison welcomed the 125 attendees and opened the meeting. In her opening remarks, Administrator Morrison praised the department’s more than 20 years of success. She noted that strategies identified and implemented during the past twelve months, under the leadership of SID Director James Wernecke, have positioned the department to extend its tradition of excellence.

Following these remarks, Administrator Morrison, SID Director Wernecke, and SID Assistant Directors Jennifer Cunningham and Dan Fodor presented service pins to 22 SID employees. These recipients included two employees with 30 years of service to the State of Ohio: Shawn Miller, a fraud analyst with the southeast regional claimant special investigations unit (SIU); and Lisa Ray, SID training manager.

admin-morrison-sid-2

Pictured left to right: Sarah Morrison, James Wernecke, Lisa Ray, Shawn Miller, Jennifer Cunninghamand Dan Fodor.

Subsequently, Director Wernecke thanked Administrator Morrison for her executive leadership, essential support for SID’s mission and compelling presence at the annual event. All of members of the Special Investigations Department joined Director Wernecke in thanking Administrator Morrison for inspiring us to realize our departmental mission to deter, detect, investigate and prosecute workers’ compensation fraud.

In the coming two weeks, we will offer more details from September 14 training event. Stay tuned for part two of the series, which acknowledges specialized training we received at the event.

In the meantime, you can read the past posts about our SID Director here and our most recent annual report here.