Northeast Ohio man reports crime, gets arrested

Stark County tree service owner convicted of work comp fraud

COLUMBUS — When James Glen Willis called police to report a theft from his vehicle in May, police made a quick arrest — of Willis himself.

00572272Willis, of Jackson Twp. in Stark County, apparently didn’t know there was a warrant out for his arrest for committing workers’ compensation fraud. He spent three days in jail and pleaded guilty to the first-degree misdemeanor on May 30 in the Stark County Court of Common Pleas. A judge ordered him to two years of good behavior in lieu of a 180-day jail sentence and gave him credit for three days served.

“Who knows when Mr. Willis would have faced justice had someone not broken into his truck,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s Special Investigation Department. “Not that I’m glad a crime occurred, but the warrant for his arrest was issued a year ago following his indictment by a Stark County grand jury.”

Willis, 47, is the owner of G and D Tree Service. BWC agents started looking at him in 2013 while investigating one of his employees for workers’ comp fraud. They found Willis’s BWC coverage had lapsed in March that year but he continued to operate without coverage. Willis admitted to having one part-time employee, while BWC surveillance discovered a regular crew of four to six employees.

Willis has since paid BWC $8,000 toward the balance he owes the agency.

In other fraud news, a former Toledo man convicted in May for stealing from BWC was sentenced June 23 to three years of community control in lieu of a 10-month jail sentence.

Herbert Christopher, who pleaded guilty May 4 to fifth-degree felony theft charge, also must pay BWC $32,752 in restitution in monthly payments of at least $200. BWC agents found Christopher working as a home inspector in Tennessee while receiving BWC benefits.

“Our Special Investigations Department is here to ensure our workers’ compensation system is as strong, fair and honest as it can be,” said Wernecke. “Anyone who cheats the system is just raising the costs for everyone else and taking resources needed by those who legitimately need it.”

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

Hey, don’t just sit there!

By Mike Lampl, BWC Research Director

Unfortunately, it’s way too easy to spend a significant amount of time sitting throughout the day. Some studies show that office workers typically spend seven or more hours sitting at work.

Add in driving to and from work, sitting at meals, sitting while watching television or reading, and you’ve easily spent 10 or more hours sitting, often without many postural changes during that time.

Prolonged sitting is associated with many chronic diseases such as cardiovascular ailments, diabetes, and cancer.

Here are some things to keep in mind while you are sitting.

  1. Your feet should be fully supported by the floor or a footrest.
  2. Your back should be fully supported with appropriate lumbar support when sitting vertically or leaning back slightly.
  3. Your thighs and hips should be supported by a well-padded seat and generally parallel to the floor.
  4. Your knees should be about the same height as the hips with the feet slightly forward.

Your next posture is your best posture. In other words, remember to make small adjustments to your chair to change your posture frequently throughout the day. And most importantly get up at least every 30 minutes for at least six minutes.

Here are some ways to incorporate standing throughout the day.

  • Stand up while talking on the phone. This has the added benefit of a generally more energetic voice.
  • Conduct a walking meeting inside or outside. Fresh air can be great, but find some shade or stay inside if it is too hot outside.
  • Stand up to clean clutter at your desk/workstation. You may be surprised what you find.
  • Conduct a standing meeting. This may also have the added benefit of keeping the meeting from going too long.
  • Walk to your co-workers’ desk and talk instead of sending an email or instant message. Sometimes face-to-face communication takes care of things quicker.

Introducing more standing and moving into your work regimen and home activities can improve your well-being, and make you a more productive person.

It is OK to sit for a good part of the day, but interrupting sitting with standing or moving every 30 minutes can be a very worthwhile change!

Remember: Sit less. Move more.

Are you prepared for an active aggressor incident?

By Darrin Blosser, BWC Threat Assessment Coordinator

As much as we would like to say it isn’t, across the United States, active aggressor situations are occurring far too frequently. Almost daily, sometimes more than once a day, we hear of another active aggressor-type situation happening somewhere. They’re happening in schools, shopping malls, places of employment, churches and even on the street. Sadly, these terrible acts have almost become a “norm.”

Today, everyone should be asking themselves, “Am I prepared to react to an active aggressor situation, and what will I do?”

State, county and local government entities across the nation are implementing policies, procedures and training to help prepare them for an active aggressor incident. Whether you are in the private sector, or a public entity, we all need to consider putting  policies in place and training our employees on how to react and defend themselves.

At BWC, we’ve taken steps to help prepare ourselves for this very situation. In fact, our Security personnel have provided training to employees and have implemented policies since 2009. In addition, to meet requirements from the Department of Administrative Services, our security team and human resources division recently completed a review of our active aggressor policy and procedures, and have provided training for our floor wardens/safety teams and security guards in each office across the state.

Representatives from the Ohio State Highway Patrol have given our employees additional training and helped our offices identify safe rooms to prepare us in the event of an active aggressor situation.

In the event of an active aggressor situation, BWC, along with law enforcement personnel and the Department of Homeland Security, recommends the defense techniques: Run, Hide, Fight.

Run – This is the best way to react in an active aggressor situation. Do not panic and sit around making yourself an easy target. If possible, running from the situation is always the best way to protect yourself and prevent you from becoming a victim.

Hide – If you find yourself in an active aggressor situation and you cannot run (i.e. your only exit is blocked by the aggressor or the aggressor is so close to you that you don’t feel running is your best course of action), you need to hide.

Should this be your only choice of defense, find a room, closet, or another location with a door that locks from the inside. Be sure to turn off the lights and, if possible, find something to use as a shield (i.e. desk, cabinet, etc.).

Put your cell phone on silent and call 911. Be very quiet and breathe. It is OK to call 911 and not say anything; whisper when you feel you can without the aggressor hearing you. Most importantly, DO NOT COME OUT and be prepared for the next step – FIGHT.

Do not be tricked by the aggressor possibly saying, “It’s the police, open the door or come out.” Stay hidden and call 911 if you can. They will tell you if the police have secured the area and actually want you to come out of hiding. Law enforcement will clear the room(s) and will find you, but understand you may be hiding for a long time.

Fight –This is when there is nothing else for you to do and it is evident the aggressor is going to confront you. Find things to use as improvised weapons (pencils, staplers, laptops, anything). Try to throw things at the aggressor’s face, especially the eyes. It is a natural reaction for all of us to defend our eyes.

Have a predetermined mindset that you will survive and are not going to go down without a fight.

As unfortunate and as difficult as it is to say, we must have a mindset every day that there is the possibility we will be exposed to an active aggressor situation. Be prepared, be vigilant, have an escape plan and be prepared to defend yourself.

For more detailed information, click here.

BWC secures 11 convictions in May

Ohioans convicted in May of workers’ compensation fraud and related charges include a Cleveland-area man serving time in a federal prison on corruption charges, a former Toledo man working as a home inspector in Tennessee and two men who claimed to be permanently disabled but were earning tens of thousands of dollars working for themselves.

“These cases demonstrate our resolve to stop workers’ compensation fraud and protect the State Insurance Fund,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Sarah Morrison. “Whether you’re in prison or working in another state, we will find you, we will prosecute you and we will recover the funds you improperly acquired so they can be used for those who are legitimately injured on the job.”

As of May 31, BWC’s Special Investigations Department had secured 64 convictions this year on charges related to cheating the workers’ compensation system. Starting with the most recent convictions, May’s cases include:

Richard Claffey of Columbus, Working and Receiving
Claffey pleaded guilty on May 31 to a fifth-degree felony charge of workers’ compensation fraud after investigators found he had collected and sold 46 tons of scrap metal during a time he purported to be disabled.  He was sentenced to five years of community control and ordered to pay $35,000 in restitution to BWC.

Abdikani Diini, dba Aarans Business Center, of Columbus, No Coverage
Diini pleaded guilty May 25 to one count of failure to comply, a second-degree misdemeanor, after investigators found his policy had lapsed shortly after he worked with BWC to reinstate it.

A judge ordered Diini to pay the full balance owed to BWC, $1,021.

Daniel McClellan of the village of Coalton, Working and Receiving
McClellan pleaded guilty May 24 to a first-degree misdemeanor charge of workers’ compensation fraud after BWC investigators found him working multiple jobs while collecting temporary disability benefits for a workplace injury he suffered as a roofer in 2009. A judge ordered McClellan to pay BWC $11,875 in restitution and $4,000 for the cost of its investigation.

Jimmie Rankin of Marion, Working and Receiving
Rankin owes BWC $160,000 after pleading guilty May 17 to a fourth-degree felony charge of workers’ compensation fraud. Rankin, who claimed to be permanently disabled, was also sentenced to five years of community control for collecting BWC benefits after he had gone back to work in the construction industry and deliberately withheld that information from BWC.

Fernando Cruz of Maineville, Working and Receiving
Cruz claimed to be permanently disabled from work while earning more than $100,000 preparing tax returns. He owes BWC nearly $57,000 in restitution after pleading guilty May 12 to a fifth-degree felony conviction for workers’ compensation fraud. A judge also sentenced him to five years of community control.

Herbert Christopher of Shelbyville, Tennessee, Working and Receiving
Christopher, formerly of Toledo, pleaded guilty May 4 in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to one count of theft, a fifth-degree felony, after investigators found him working as a home inspector in Tennessee. Sentencing is scheduled for June 23.

Leon Watson of Toledo, dba Leon and Terry Enterprise, Lapsed Coverage
Watson pleaded guilty May 4 to a minor misdemeanor count of failure to comply and was ordered to pay $99 in court costs. Watson made payments totaling $4,481 to the Ohio Attorney General’s office, resolving the balance due on his BWC policy and resulting in the reinstatement of the policy.

Diane Herrick of North Canton, Working and Receiving
Herrick pleaded guilty May 2 to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a fifth-degree felony, after investigators found her working as a home health aide while receiving BWC benefits. The investigation found Herrick collecting nearly $22,000 while providing numerous activities for two individuals, including household chores, meal preparation, cleaning and shopping. A restitution hearing has been set for June 28.

Kandice Klink Jones of Columbus, Working and Receiving
Jones pleaded guilty May 1 to a fifth-degree count of workers’ compensation fraud after investigators found her working for four separate employers while collecting BWC benefits. She was ordered to pay BWC $12,938 in restitution and sentenced to five years of community control.

James Todt of Brecksville, Working and Receiving
Already serving time in prison on corruption charges, Todt pleaded guilty May 1 to a fifth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud after investigators found he had collected $33,400 from BWC while working in the construction industry. He was sentenced to nine months in prison, to be served concurrently with his current sentence.

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

We want you to present at OSC18!

By Julie Darby-Martin, BWC Safety Congress Manager

Do you have knowledge to share that can keep workplaces safe and healthy?

Are you good in front of a crowd?

If so, you could be a potential presenter for our Ohio Safety Congress & Expo 2018 (OSC18), the nation’s largest occupational-focused safety and health event.

We’re now accepting presentation proposals for this multi-day event, scheduled for March 7 – 9, 2018, in Columbus, Ohio.

OSC18 will feature more than 200 educational sessions taught by experts from across the nation. Topics include:

  • Safety management;
  • Government and regulation;
  • Health, wellness and rehabilitation;
  • Emergency preparedness and response;
  • Workers’ compensation;
  • Driving and transportation;
  • Training and education;
  • Personal protective equipment;
  • And much more.

We are seeking one-hour educational sessions, panel discussions and live demonstrations as well as three-hour and six-hour workshops. For OSC18, we are particularly interested in topics related to slips, trips and falls, overexertion, and motor vehicle accidents. These injury types comprise more than 60 percent of Ohio’s workplace injuries.

Typical attendees include occupational safety and risk-management directors, workers’ compensation managers, health and wellness leaders, and individuals with an interest in occupational safety and health, wellness, rehabilitation and medical treatment of injured workers.

We’re accepting applications until July 31. For application guidelines and to register, visit our call for presentations site. Want to get a glimpse of the event? Take a look back at our OSC17 Twitter recap.

Fatigue equals high costs for workers, employers

By Delia Treaster, PhD, CPE, BWC Ergonomic Technical Advisor

“I’m so tired.” How often have you said this? Fatigue is a normal part of everyday life.

Everyone gets tired after a long day at work or after a sleepless night. Even prolonged sitting can make us feel tired; just imagine how you feel after a long drive. Most of the time, we can recover quickly after taking a break or getting a good night’s sleep.

But what happens if fatigue is a chronic condition? Chronic fatigue could be the result of an undiagnosed medical condition, overwork or sleep deprivation. Diabetes, anemia and sleep apnea are some of the medical conditions that can cause chronic fatigue. Work can be another source of chronic fatigue. Shift work, extended work hours or physically intense jobs are work factors that contribute to chronic fatigue.

The high cost of fatigue
Chronic fatigue has a high cost for workers and employers. The personal cost of chronic fatigue is always feeling tired, as if you just don’t have enough energy for routine activities. It can worsen your health as well. For example, undiagnosed sleep apnea can rob you of a good night’s sleep, resulting in daytime sleepiness and lethargy.

Poor sleep has been linked with an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, stroke, hypertension and heart failure. Getting an accurate medical diagnosis, then receiving proper treatment should solve the underlying medical causes for chronic fatigue.

Work-related chronic fatigue also has high costs for employers. Tired workers are less productive and less safe. They may make more mistakes because they’re too tired to pay attention to details or don’t remember procedures properly. Tired workers may be tempted to take shortcuts and may not comply with standard operating procedures and safety regulations.

More accidents occur when workers are fatigued; there are more accidents and injuries on night shift than on day shift. Absenteeism rises with extended work hours and poorly designed shift schedules. Morale and teamwork also suffer when workers are tired and irritable. This can lead to poorer quality of both goods and customer service.

Other costs include increased re-work due to poorer quality; greater overtime to compensate for greater absenteeism; and more worker injuries from overexertions or repetitive motions. The overall cost can be millions of dollars lost every year in fatigue-related expenses. Using extended hours and overtime instead of hiring additional workers may seem to be a cost-effective way of increasing production while controlling labor costs, but in light of the true cost of chronically fatigued workers, it is short-sighted and counterproductive.

Employers can take proactive steps to reduce work-related fatigue. Scheduling work shifts to avoid disrupting workers’ sleep schedules will help them get a good night’s sleep and be well-rested. Re-designing work to reduce the physical demands of the job can reduce excessive fatigue and overexertions and keep workers safe.

Fatigue is a physiological state, one that cannot be overcome with willpower, training or education. Sufficient rest and recovery time is the best way to reduce fatigue and its associated costs.

Bar owner ignores BWC debt, then pays after liquor agents raid bar

Southwest Ohio man guilty of ‘failure to comply’

A Hamilton bar owner who refused to cooperate with the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) over his lapsed coverage entered a repayment plan with BWC after state liquor control agents raided his bar in early April and seized cash and liquor.

The workers’ compensation coverage for Alleys on the River in Hamilton is now active and in compliance, but owner Michael E. Larkin, 53, has a criminal conviction on his record now after pleading guilty May 31 to a second-degree misdemeanor count of failure to comply. A Hamilton municipal judge fined him $150, sentenced him to two years of community control and ordered that $1,000 of the cash seized in the raid be applied to his BWC debt.

“We made several attempts to help Mr. Larkin bring his lapsed BWC policy into compliance, but he wouldn’t work with us. He didn’t even show up in court for his arraignment after we pressed charges,” said Dan Fodor, assistant director of BWC’s Special Investigations Department (SID). “We subsequently referred his case to the Ohio Liquor Control Commission because he wasn’t meeting his obligation to his employees to carry workers’ comp coverage, which is required by state law.”

The commission suspended Alleys’ liquor license in May 2016, but agents with the Ohio Investigative Unit raided the business on April 6 this year after learning it was still selling alcohol. Agents seized $2,600 in liquor proceeds and nearly 1,500 bottles and cans of beer and liquor. Larkin started his payment plan with BWC the next day, and he has since regained his liquor license.

Fodor said this case illustrates the importance of employers working with BWC to resolve their compliance issues, rather than ignoring them altogether.

“Our employer fraud team actively investigates those that try to cheat the system,” he said. “BWC offers a number of programs that could potentially lower an employer’s premiums. They just need to call and work with us, because ignoring or defying their obligations will only cost them more in the long run.”

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