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.
Willis, 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.