Cincinnati woman who stole from mother guilty of workers’ comp fraud

With mother in nursing home, daughter used benefits card to buy drugs

shawna-j-photoA Cincinnati woman who stole her disabled mother’s workers’ compensation benefits to support her drug habit must pay $26,170 in restitution to her mother and the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC), a Hamilton County Common Pleas judge ruled Sept. 21.

Shawna R.  Jessee, 48, also must serve 180 days in the Hamilton County Justice Center’s extended drug treatment program for women, minus 72 days credit for time already served. She must serve five years probation, submit to random drug screenings and serve 18 months in prison if she fails a drug screening or terms of her probation.

“We know drug addiction is a serious health issue tearing at the fabric of our society, but we can’t tolerate the theft or misuse of funds that belong to our injured workers,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Sarah Morrison.

BWC’s Special Investigations Department started looking at Jessee after a BWC claims specialist couldn’t reach Jessee’s mother. Investigators found the mother living at a local nursing home and discovered Jessee had been using her mother’s benefits card to withdraw money without her mother’s consent.

Jessee pleaded guilty Aug. 17 to a fourth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud. She must pay $18,724 in restitution to her mother and $7,446 to BWC.

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

Raising awareness during Fraud Awareness Week, combating fraud every day

By Melissa Vince, BWC Public Relations Manager

a-sid-badge-and-sealWhen the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation created its Special Investigations Department (SID) in 1993, the new department boasted a staff of a dozen people and offices in just three cities to combat fraud across Ohio’s 88 counties. Data was stored in paper files and agents relied on such state-of-the-art equipment as pagers, payphones and binoculars, not to mention video cameras the size of small SUVs.

SID looks vastly different today. Staffed with 118 agents, supervisors and support personnel, the department works out of 11 offices across the state and investigates hundreds of fraud cases a year, from workers who fake injuries to physicians running pill mills. Agents are armed with smart phones and sophisticated investigatory devices they don’t talk about publicly.

In 23 years, SID has identified more than $1.7 billion in savings, as well as:

  • Researched 117,820 allegations;
  • Completed 64,255 investigations;
  • Referred 4,897 subjects for prosecution; and
  • Secured 2,595 criminal convictions.

Says SID Director Jim Wernecke: “Even after all these successes, we know fraud still persists, and our goal remains the same after more than two decades: to detect and deter workers’ compensation fraud in Ohio and return misappropriated funds to caring for injured workers and improving workplace safety.”

While tried and true techniques remain important to a successful case, we’re also committed to keeping pace with the most up-to-date resources, such as digital forensics and analytical intelligence, including predictive modeling, to root out otherwise undetected fraudulent activity. We also use social media and specialized presentations to educate and build awareness.

fraud-week-logo2016One of many ways we build awareness is by eagerly joining our fraud-fighting colleagues around the country and abroad each November to participate in International Fraud Awareness Week. The campaign, which runs until Saturday, was established by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners to highlight the issue of fraud and help minimize its impacts.

Most weeks, you’ll find us sharing our fraud news on #Fraud Friday. But this week we’ll have a new fraud feature each day, including tips for identifying and preventing fraud, new cases, and insights from our investigators on what they do here every day to stop workers’ comp fraud in Ohio.  So keep an eye here on our blog and on our Facebook and Twitter pages for fresh content.

Happy Fraud Awareness Week!

And don’t forget to keep those tips coming. To report workers’ comp fraud in Ohio, click here or call our fraud hotline at 1-800-644-6292.

Safety rocks and rolls at Cleveland-area safety council’s CEO event

By Michelle Francisco, BWC Safety Council Program Manager

rocknrollGiven the recent success of the Cavaliers and the Indians, Cleveland is suddenly known for its professional sports teams. But at the recent Cleveland Southwest Safety Council (CSSC) CEO event, Harley-Davidson motorcycles – and rock music – took center stage.

More than 180 CSSC members and their highest-ranking local officials gathered at the Rock-N-Roll City Harley-Davidson dealership, which opened just a year ago in Brook Park, to hear owner Mike Davis discuss his company philosophy and the importance it places on safety. Mike is the owner of four dealerships in Ohio, but he started his career in aeronautics, an industry equally dedicated to safety.

rocks-2The CSSC often selects a local business to host its CEO networking event, believing that members enjoy a non-traditional setting that provides a behind-the-scenes perspective of a company’s operation. Previous hosts have included the NASA Safety Center and Kaufman Container.

Many of the dealership’s 50+ employees mingled with guests, speaking proudly of their visibility in the community and popularity with travelers passing through Cleveland at nearby Hopkins airport.

rock4On the day of the event, visitors in town from Chicago for game two of the World Series stopped by the dealership to shop at one of Harley-Davidson’s newest state-of-the art dealerships.

Safety staff Gayle Luker and Nicole Lorenzo, from BWC’s Garfield Heights customer service office, mingled with attendees, touching base with existing customers and developing new leadership contacts.

Meanwhile, I took the opportunity to say a few words on behalf of the agency, reinforcing BWC’s commitment to creating a forum for safety education, reducing accidents and making Ohio a safer place to work.

Following the meeting, representatives from several employers approached me to express their appreciation for BWC’s safety efforts. Steve Hilton, the Health Safety & Environmental Manager of self-insuring ThyssenKrupp Materials NA (Ken-Mac Metals Division), is responsible for the company’s workers’ compensation in several states. He said he is most impressed with the no-added cost “pre-paid” services unique to Ohio. He lauded the recent air monitoring provided by local industrial hygienist Ron Kruchan and acknowledged the significant cost-savings it provides his company. Each year, ThyssenKrupp also invites safety managers from eight plants across the country to BWC’s annual Ohio Safety Congress & Expo in Columbus to capitalize on the education and certification credits it offers.

These are just some of the many benefits Ohio employers enjoy as part of their BWC workers’ compensation insurance coverage.

BWC sponsors 82 safety councils across the state to provide a forum for accident prevention, workers’ compensation and health & wellness information in local communities. The Berea, Brook Park and Middleburg Heights chambers of commerce co-sponsor the CSSC. They work together to provide valuable monthly occupational safety and health educational opportunities to more than 130 members.

For more information about the Cleveland Southwest Safety Council, visit their website.

Groveport woman cheated BWC out of $51,000

 Health care worker sentenced on workers’ comp fraud charges Thursday

danielle-cheeks-booking-photoA Central Ohio woman must pay more than $51,000 in restitution to the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation after pleading guilty Thursday to a fifth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud.

Danielle Cheeks, 41, of Groveport, must repay BWC $51,590 and serve five years probation in lieu of a six-month jail sentence for fraudulent behavior dating back to 2010, according to her Nov. 3 sentence in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.

BWC’s Special Investigations Department started looking at Cheeks after a BWC claims service specialist (CSS) suspected Cheeks was under-reporting her work wages in order to receive higher living maintenance wage-loss benefits from BWC. The CSS told investigators he had requested Cheeks on multiple occasions to submit her paystubs but she never complied.

Investigators determined Cheeks was working as a home health aide for three private companies, as well as for herself as an independent provider for Medicaid recipients, as early as August 2010.  This employment conflicted consistently with BWC benefits she received from August 2010 through November 2014.

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

“Fall back,” but do so safely

Time change can mess with our clocks, all of them

By Delia Treaster, PhD, CPE, BWC Ergonomic Consultant

It’s almost time for the end of Daylight Saving Time.  At 2 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 6, we return to Eastern Standard Time. We gain an extra hour as we “fall back,” but despite this advantage, this biannual ritual of changing our clocks can mess with our internal clock.

When we turn the clocks back one hour this weekend, it is as if we crossed one time zone westward. For some, it may take up to a week to become accustomed to waking and sleeping one hour later. You will notice there is much more light for your commute on Monday morning following the end of DST. Conversely, it will get darker an hour earlier in the evening, so there may be less daylight for your evening commute.

Research has shown that there are more sleep disruptions in the week following the changing of the clocks. Nighttime restlessness tends to increase, resulting in poorer quality sleep. Morning “larks” are more bothered by the autumn change, while night “owls” fare worse with the spring change.

Whether you’re a “lark” or “owl”, you should expect a few restless nights following the end of Daylight Saving Time and be prepared to make some adjustments. The upcoming “fall back” will give most of us a much-needed chance to catch up on sleep, so take full advantage of that extra hour of zzz’s.

While more light may make your morning commute easier, the opposite – less light – can occur for your evening commute. Because vision may be poorer, give yourself extra following distance on the road. Be alert for cyclists or pedestrians who may be harder to see in dimmer light.  Driving a little slower will give you more time to react to unexpected events.

As your body slowly adjusts to the new hours of waking and sleeping, you should be able to fall asleep more easily and stay asleep. You’ll become accustomed to the new lighting levels for the morning and evening drives. That is, until next spring, when we again change our clocks and start the readjustment period all over again!

School bus safety begins outside the bus

By Glenn McGinley, Director, Ohio Public Employment Risk Reduction Program

When school bus safety comes up in conversation the topic normally focuses on student and passenger safety.

However, drivers, mechanics, crossing guards and other personnel face serious safety hazards associated with the work they perform, including workplace violence, fires and explosions. They are also in danger of being struck and backed-over.

A few years ago, a school district transportation mechanic died after a car struck him while he responded to a disabled bus parked on the side of a roadway. He was not wearing high-visibility safety apparel and did not provide advanced warning (safety triangles and emergency road flares or fusees) to help motorists easily see him or the disabled bus.

All too often, other personnel (e.g., crossing guards, personnel directing parking lot traffic) face similar hazards.

A Public Employment Risk Reduction Program (PERRP) compliance officer investigated the incident and concluded that, to prevent similar occurrences, employers should, at a minimum:

  • Provide crossing guards, bus drivers, mechanics and other personnel with high-visibility safety apparel (e.g., reflective vests) and require them to wear the apparel whenever they are exposed to vehicular traffic – regardless of time of day or speed of traffic – as required by the Ohio Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices.
  • Establish a formal policy and procedure for responding to disabled bus incidents, including: timely placement of warning devices (triangles, emergency road flares or fusees); use of steady burning or flashing traffic wands; and instruction for all employees on required emergency procedures to follow until law enforcement personnel arrive on scene.

In an earlier blog post I touched on the importance of employers assessing risks associated with job tasks and then identifying appropriate control measures to ensure each and every employee has a safe workplace. Sometimes, assessing risk means you have to think “outside the box” and contemplate activities that might occur or are likely to happen. Focusing only on tasks that employees do every day may not ensure they go home to their families at the end of the work day.

PERRP picturePERRP’s role is to ensure safe working conditions for Ohio’s public employees by adopting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. We are here to help, just ask!

To ask questions, get compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report workplace multiple hospitalization accidents, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to public employees, call PERRP’s toll-free hotline at 800-671-6858, or send us an email at PERRPRequests@bwc.state.oh.us.