Top 5 posts of 2018

Another year is coming to a close! It’s been our pleasure to share a wide range of topics with you in 2018.

In 115 posts, we covered topics ranging from driving safety and return-to-work stories to our Ohio State Fair booth and conference activities. As always, Fridays are set aside to share fraud related updates. Whatever the topic, we appreciate your readership!

Just in case you missed them, here are the most popular posts from 2018:

  1. Look out for our deer friends on the road
  2. OSC18 – The postgame wrap-up
  3. Back-to-school safety tips for drivers as distracted pedestrian numbers rise
  4. Ohio State Fair tickets up for grabs!
  5. AASCIF 2018: Connecting with industry peers and experts

If there are topics you’d like to read about in 2019, we want to hear from you. Just leave a comment on this post and we’ll do our best to make it happen.

For now, we wish you all a very Happy New Year!

Auld Lang Syne…

Standout fraud cases in 2018

By Melissa Vince, BWC Public Relations Manager

Soon we’ll all be counting down and singing that classic New Year’s song to say farewell to 2018 and hello to 2019. Or maybe you’re like me and you’ll wake up at 12:05 a.m. to realize you missed another countdown.

In the spirit of Auld Lang Syne, which roughly translates as “for old times’ sake,” we thought we’d look back at some of our more notable cases in 2018. Since January, we shared 48 blogs covering claimant, provider and employer workers’ compensation fraud cases. The following cases stand out in our memory:

Thanks for your support this year. We were proud to celebrate our 25th year of investigating, detecting and deterring fraud in Ohio. Now it’s on to 26!

And thanks for following the BWC Fraud Blog. We hope you’ll stay tuned here in 2019 for more on the latest news and information on workers’ comp fraud in Ohio. Don’t forget to also follow our Facebook page.

Cheers! Okay, everyone now: Should auld acquaintance be forgot….

Safety council brightens Christmas for deceased worker’s family

By Erik Harden, BWC Public Information Officer

On Nov. 4, 2017, Mison Woo received the life-changing news. That was the day her husband, Gerardo “Jerry” Juarez, died on the job.

The 39-year-old father of five was working as a roofer at a work site in Akron alongside a few colleagues when he slipped on the damp cedar roof of an apartment building, slid to the edge and rolled over a jack board before falling three stories to the ground.

A report from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) revealed Gerardo and his co-workers were not using fall-arrest equipment and had not received training from their employer on fall hazards. OSHA would eventually fine the employer nearly $150,000.

Since that day, a mother and her family have dealt with the reality of losing a husband and father suddenly and far too soon. Last Thanksgiving and Christmas were especially trying times for a family still coming to terms with such a tragic loss.

A mission to help

A year later, members of the Canton-Akron (CAK) Safety Council made it their mission to give the family a brighter and merrier Christmas. It started with the council’s steering committee floating the idea of the council and NE Ohio OSHA Area Office adopting the family for the holidays. Deb Bailey, BWC’s liaison to the CAK Safety Council, got the greenlight and pitched the idea to OSHA Area Director Howie Eberts. He loved the idea and reached out to the family.

Bailey recalls the council first hearing about Gerardo’s incident and its aftermath when Eberts gave an OSHA update at a council meeting shortly after the fatal incident occurred. For Eberts, the investigation had been different than most.

By coincidence, he met some of the family at the incident site when they came to retrieve Gerardo’s cell phone. Eberts introduced himself to Mison and two of her children who were with her, including her son, Gerardo Jr., and explained why he was at the site. He later recalled Junior’s heartbreaking demeanor.

He told the safety council’s members that when he looked at the son, he saw a look of total disbelief that his father was gone. Eberts, with a family and children of his own, remembered it really hitting home because he wondered what would happen to his family under similar circumstances.

Coming together for a family

Fast forward to the November 2018 CAK Safety Council meeting. At the meeting the council heard the idea of adopting the Juarez family and supported it 100 percent. “Every year, we do something to give back to the community around this time of year,” Bailey says. “Supporting this family, that the council had heard so much about, seemed like the perfect idea.”

That day alone, the council collected $500 in gift card donations for the family. In the weeks after, BWC employees, council members and OSHA employees collected even more. The final tally ended up being more than $2,500 in gifts, cash and gift cards for the family. Last Wednesday, the CAK Safety Council prepped the gifts at the North Canton Chamber of Commerce. Last Friday, Eberts (as Santa) and CAK Safety Council members (his elves) delivered everything to Mison at her workplace.

A year ago, Eberts crossed paths with a family in its darkest hour. This year, he and so many others got to give them some brightness and joy for Christmas.

Home Depot shopping trip blows fraudster’s cover

Mentor man caught working as handyman while collecting BWC benefits

A northeast Ohio landscaper must pay the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) a little more than $5,000 in restitution after the agency’s investigators found him working while collecting injured-worker benefits.

Jason Dudas, 39, of Mentor, pleaded guilty Dec. 13 to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor, in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. A judge ordered Dudas to pay BWC $5,073 in restitution and serve three years of non-reporting probation.

“We got a tip that Mr. Dudas might be working after someone spotted him getting into a truck loaded with construction supplies at a Home Depot store,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s special investigations department. “We checked it out and found Mr. Dudas working as a handyman while collecting BWC benefits. This behavior isn’t just illegal, it’s expensive and unfair because it drives up the costs of our workers’ comp system for everyone.”

In other business, a Toledo-area business owner pleaded guilty to attempted failure to comply with the law Dec. 3 after BWC discovered him running a business without workers’ compensation coverage to protect his employees.

Brian Lang, owner of Outdoor Inspirations of Holland, Ohio, pleaded guilty to the third-degree misdemeanor charge in Sylvania Municipal Court after paying $5,304 toward the balance he owes BWC. A judge scheduled sentencing for Jan. 28.

“Our investigation revealed Mr. Lang had several employees and therefore he absolutely should be carrying workers’ compensation insurance,” said Wernecke. “We put him on notice to become compliant with the law, but he failed to do that and that’s why he found himself in court Dec. 3.”

Outdoor Inspirations is a specialty landscaping and tree service company, according to its website. The company’s workers’ comp policy remains lapsed.

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

How to avoid road rage during the season of peace

By Erik Harden, BWC Public Information Officer

People have a lot to stress about right now. Making six dozen cookies for the neighbor’s cookie exchange. Psyching yourself up for Christmas dinner with the in-laws. Hearing “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” for the 20th time in the past 24 hours.

It’s enough to make even the calmest person edgy. Put them behind the wheel of a car, and it can mean real trouble. But in all seriousness, the added stressors of the holidays can contribute to increased instances of road rage. When a driver experiences road rage (as the victim or the perpetrator), the potential to crash a vehicle increases. Road rage usually encompasses four emotions: anger, impatience, competing and punishment.

When people drive angry, it usually shows itself in tell-tale signs, such as: speeding; cutting others off; tailgating; erratic lane changes, etc. Impatience makes drivers feel easily annoyed by other drivers and pedestrians. Impatient drivers react more strongly to things like slower drivers, not being able to pass another vehicle or with pedestrians crossing the street.

The urge to compete can include challenging other drivers when lanes merge or for limited parking spaces. Competing often leads to punishing behaviors such as: blocking other cars trying to merge; riding too close to other cars; cursing and making obscene gestures to other drivers; seeking to encounter another driver.

Never resort to punishing behaviors. If you believe another driver wants to start a fight, seek help – head for a police station. Do not get out of your car, and avoid going home alone. In some states, there are special telephone num­bers to report aggressive drivers. Here in Ohio, you can call 1-800-GRAB DUI.

Thankfully, there are also several strategies we can all take to minimize the potential dangers of road rage, including:

  • Not reacting to provocation – don’t offend, don’t engage.
  • Steering clear of erratic drivers.
  • Avoiding eye contact with aggressive drivers.
  • Using your horn sparingly.
  • Not making obscene gestures.
  • Not switching lanes without signaling.
  • Not blocking the passing lane.
  • Not tailgating.
  • Not taking more than one parking space.
  • Being polite and courteous even if other drivers are not.
  • Avoiding conflict, and allowing plenty of time for your trip.

The potential per­sonal costs of road rage can be high, including crashes, injuries, disabilities and even loss of life. Remember to keep things in perspective when you’re behind the wheel, and give yourself enough time to get to your destination safely – even if it’s to your in-laws’ house.

Cleveland-area businessman convicted of workers’ comp fraud

‘Disabled’ man plows snow, mows lawns

A northeast Ohio business owner must pay the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) nearly $34,000 in restitution after the agency found him working and running a business while collecting disability benefits.

Gabriel Seda of Grafton, Ohio, pleaded guilty Dec. 6 through a Bill of Information to a fifth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud. A judge in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas ordered Seda to reimburse BWC $33,960 and sentenced him to five years of probation in lieu of a year in prison.

“Our investigation found Mr. Seda plowing snow, mowing lawns and landscaping for a business he owned, GS Snow Removal and Lawn Care,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s special investigations department. “Clearly, he wasn’t so disabled that he couldn’t work.”

In other news, the owner of a graphic design and screen-printing shop in Springfield who failed to turn herself in to the court earlier this year pleaded guilty to “failure to comply” Dec. 3 after BWC’s fugitive task force tracked her down in November.

A judge fined Beth Turner, owner of Flashions LTD in Springfield, $100 and court costs for the minor misdemeanor charge. Turner’s conviction followed a BWC investigation that found her running her business with employees under lapsed BWC coverage. She was charged in May after she stopped cooperating with BWC to bring her policy back into compliance. She has since done so.

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

‘Tis the season for parking-lot perils

By Erik Harden, BWC Public Information Officer

Let’s face it, parking lots can be harrowing under the best of circumstances. Throw in wintry weather and/or holiday shopping, and the mayhem increases exponentially.

However, there are steps you can take to make navigating them a little less scary. First, let’s talk about walking hazards.

Whether you’re at work or at the mall, remember to slow down and focus on walking (putting your phone away helps) when there is snow and ice. Check the weather forecast and plan your footwear accordingly. Snow boots are better than two or three-inch heels when an ice storm is in the forecast. Finally, walk with your feet turned outward and in small shuffling steps when pos­sible. You know, like a duck.

It’s always important to practice personal security in park­ing areas, but even more so when shopping during the holidays.

  • Park in well-lit areas and scan the parking lot for threats while leaving or arriving at your vehicle.
  • Avoid shopping alone whenever possible.
  • Beware of strangers approaching you for any reason.
  • Have your keys ready – to help you enter and exit your vehicle quickly.
  • Do not leave new purchases in plain view in your vehicle. Put bags and packages in the trunk.
  • Don’t overload yourself with bags. Doing so makes you an easy target, and can make it easier to slip and fall on ice or snow.
  • Above all – stay alert and aware of your surroundings always. Not to harp on it, but putting your phone away helps.

Limited spaces and frantic shoppers can turn parking lots into a free-for-all at this time of year.

The following tips will make your next trip to the mall safer and happier.

  • Be aware and look in all direc­tions as you travel.
  • Drive slowly and watch for cars that might be cutting diagonally across the lot.
  • Use turn signals and yield the right of way to cars travelling along aisles.
  • Look for spots where you can pull through and face out to prevent the need for backing out.

Try to park in the center of a parking space. Don’t be the person who parks over the line, diagonal or not into a space far enough. Doing so may not give other drivers enough room to park their car without harming yours.

Spending just a little extra time to park will improve your chances of avoiding an accident.